My last two weekends could not have been experiences on further points of the spectrum.
Weekend one - I stayed home. Alone. I went out to do the things I needed to do and engaged with some peeps along the way. And I read a book. It was a really, really, really good book. And it was a long book. Which meant there wasn’t time for much else.
Weekend two - I also stayed home. With heaps and heaps of people. I had people from inter-state come stay. I hosted a party and invited new friends and old friends. Really, really young friends and not quite so young friends. Friends I’ve known since childhood and friends I’ve known for a month or two. People that weren’t friends yet, but are now. Friends of friends came along. The weekend was full of people.
Interestingly If I was to pick a side, I’d probably pick myself to be on the introverted team. I really enjoy being alone. I like solitary activities like reading and cross-stitch. I’m one cat away from becoming the stereotypical ‘cat lady’. For a long time, big social events were not really my thing. I enjoyed them, but never actively sought them out. But things seem to be shifting.
The consequences I felt following each of these weekend experiences were just as incongruous as the weekends themselves.
Following the first weekend, I felt tired. And a bit flat. I returned to work a bit deflated and unmotivated and it took a little while to get my groove going.
The second weekend though, I was zooming. Energised. Motivated. Stimulated. Challenged. Enthusiastic. Optimistic. Joyful. Grateful. Dare I say it. I think I was feeling pretty happy.
I doubt that most of us don’t disagree that friendship is a totes wonderful part of life. But sometimes, it seems like we might see it as a bit of a superficial part of life. Maybe not the biggest priority. The part to enjoy when we’ve taken care of the other (more important) stuff. Like work. And partners. And children. And creating niche greeting card businesses with your sister.
But as it turns out this is totally not the case. If we put more value into our friendships, it might actually help us with the other stuff. Like work. And partners. And children. And creating niche greeting card businesses with your sister (this, I already knew).
Friendship, together with other close relationships, is frequently responsible for large boosts in our well-being. Interestingly, people often seek counselling for family difficulties, though rarely for matters of friendship. Yet, in our modern lifestyle we operate less as members of a tribe or a community and more as autonomous individuals.
According to the really smart people (those who do the good research) having friends at work makes you more productive, innovative, happier and even more satisfied with the amount of money you earn than if you didn’t have any pals on the job. Friendships have also been shown to spur creativity and innovation. If you’re married or partnered up, the more friends you have the stronger your couple relationship will be. Similarly, sharing with friends who are experiencing similar transitions such as becoming parents, raising children and teenagers can provide support, advice and relief as required.
[And whilst there’s no formal research into this one, we can anecdotally report that without the support, encouragement, advice, ideas, belief, woodworking skills, media relations advice, honesty and inspiration Hope Street Cards would not be up and running.]
And then there are all the physical reasons for not staying at home alone on weekends and reading a book.
It's true that just being with a friend lowers our blood pressure. Other health effects of solid friendships are among the most surprising; friends can help us break bad habits or lose weight, simply because we are so driven to adapt the values and behaviours of those in our social group. Laughing with friends can increase physical pain thresholds by about ten percent. Friends enhance our intelligence (since you're comfortable with them you're more likely to freely share insights until something brilliant surfaces. You should have heard some of the ideas we came up with for shark deterrents over the weekend!) and they can even save your wits. Elderly people with active social lives are much less likely to experience cognitive decline and dementia than those without.
The ultimate argument for the positive influence of friends is their startling effect on our life spans. One study found that breast cancer patients who were socially isolated had a full 66 percent increased risk of dying compared to women with a supportive circle of friends. Having a spouse did not reduce the patients' chances of dying. According to a meta-study, people with a solid group of friends are 50 percent more likely to survive at any given time than those without one. And here's another goodie: having few social ties is an equivalent mortality risk to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and even riskier than being obese or not exercising!
The clincher for me though has been the warm and fuzzy feeling I’ve been carrying around all week. Us humans are wired for connection and a sense belonging is one of the deepest sources of human fulfilment. The energy that can exist between people when they feel seen, heard and valued; when they can given and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship - that shit is special. When I’m with my peeps I know that I belong. It implies that I am taken seriously; I am connected; I am supported.
It’s hard to get that feeling from a book.