The power of friends: how good friends can save your life

By Dr. Alex Avila

Friends can save your life.  Aristotle, the great philosopher once said: “In poverty and other misfortunes in life, true friends are a sure refuge.” When you’re feeling down, depressed, or worried, an empathetic and supportive friend can be the balm you need to soothe your mind and get you back on track—helping you survive and thrive in times of turmoil. Loneliness—disconnection from self, others, and a higher nature—is one of the biggest problems and diseases in the world. Our primary mission at Love University is to help eradicate loneliness by building a community of like-minded “Love Givers.”  Research indicates that having strong social support can reduce loneliness, which in turn, lowers dementia and blood pressure, while increasing self-confidence, gratitude, and optimism, and even helping you live longer.  In our difficult and turmoil-filled world, we need great friends to combat social isolation and loneliness. With loving and committed friends motivating us to be our best,  we can prosper and enjoy life to the fullest.  Here are some ways to have more amazing friends in your life:

*Assess Your Friendship Level.   Make an inventory of your circle of friends. On a pad, tablet, or journal write down your total number of friends and rate their level of emotional closeness, from 1 to 100. You might have two 100 level friends (long-term, emotionally close friends),  four at the 80 level (close friends), and seven at the 50 level (acquaintances). Or, if you’re Introverted (enjoy your alone time), you might have lower numbers. Regardless of your number and quality of friends, your next step is to decide if you want to increase either the number and/or the quality of your friends. Perhaps, you decide to reach out to new people by joining groups of like-minded individuals (science, psychology, crafts, politics, business). Or you may want to reconnect with old friends from school, work, church, or the neighborhood that you haven’t spoken to in a while. As you measure your friend circle, you will be able to make improvements in the number and quality of your friends so you can have stronger and more enjoyable social support.

*Be a Friend to Yourself.  One of the most important keys to having good friends is to be a friend to yourself.  This means that you fully understand, accept, embrace, and love yourself as you are—with all your foibles, weaknesses, and idiosyncrasies.  When people are isolated and lonely, they tend to get down on themselves—they criticize, attack, and reject themselves, saying “I’m not worthy of love and success.” On the other hand, when you’re a friend to yourself, you focus on your good qualities and how much you can contribute to others and the world. Although you recognize your needed areas of improvement, you concentrate on loving yourself for who you are right now—at this very moment. You say to yourself, “I am lovable, and I can be a great friend; I deserve the friendship and love of others.” When you think like this, a miraculous door to friendship opens, as you attract good people by the power of your personality and the depth of your loving energy.

*Look Within the Person.  Many times we judge too quickly. We meet a new person and immediately form an impression of them: jerk, cool, attractive, nice, arrogant. Yet, we may make a superficial assumption and reject a person who could have been a great friend to us (or perhaps more, even a romantic partner). In psychology, this quick to judge attitude is known as “Primacy Effect”—the idea that first impressions are the only impression. Have you ever met someone you initially thought was mean, unkind, or harsh, and then later you turned out to be totally wrong about them? Perhaps, when you met the person they were having a bad day—they just had a fight with their love partner or coworker. Later, you became better acquainted with them, and you learned that they were a wonderful person and loyal friend. When you meet people, start to look beneath your initial impression and give them the benefit of the doubt—get to know the real person. You may be pleasantly surprised that underneath that initially sour persona lies a wonderful and loving person who can be a great friend to you.

*Extend Loving Energy Without Expectation.  This is one of the greatest secrets of Love University:  Loving others without expecting anything in return.   When you smile at other people, say “Hi,” pay them sincere compliments, help them, and listen to them with empathy (putting yourself in their shoes), you are extending loving energy to them.  Your goal is to give love without expecting anything in return—not a smile, “hello,” or even a response.  You do this because you have loving energy inside you, and you are simply extending what you already have. If someone doesn’t reciprocate, you simply extend your loving energy elsewhere. Eventually, you will connect with friends who harmonize with your loving energy and return it in kind.  In psychology this is known as “Reciprocal Liking”—we tend to like people who like us first.  You will be the one to make the first friendship move—without fear of rejection or judgement. With the power of your loving energy, you will create the opportunity for a select number of compatible and loving people to enter your life.   Once this happens, your world will overflow with wonderful and caring friends and you will gladly share your joy and love.

It is possible to have compassionate, loving, and loyal friends—no matter how old you are, or what your situation is in life.  Even if you have a mate, children, and other family members, it’s still important to have a friend who deeply understands and embraces who you really are.  If you’re an Introvert (you get more energy from your own thoughts), you may need fewer friends, but you still want to have a few deep and close relationships. When friendship permeates your world, you will have the security, comfort, and emotional support you need to develop your talents and share them with others.  This week decide that you will make a new quality friend, and that you will be a loyal and loving friend to those who are already in your life. When you befriend the world, the world will love you in return.

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