I know our posts this week are supposed to have a Valentine’s Day theme, but I wanted to talk about my other favorite February holiday, Galentine’s Day, and how our friendships are related to our health.
What’s Galentine’s Day you ask?
Oh, only the best holiday ever. Galentine’s Day is a celebration of ladies and friendship held on February 13th. To celebrate, get together with your ladyfriends for a breakfast or brunch to celebrate each other’s accomplishments. Also, another rule of Galentine’s Day, you have to leave the guys at home.
I first learned about this holiday on the television show Parks and Recreation. In the episode the main character, Leslie, showers her friends with ridiculous gifts like hand crocheted flower pens, mosaic portraits made out of their favorite crushed cans of diet soda, and a 5,000 word essay on why each of her friends is awesome. Although, it may sound silly, our relationships within our social networks matter and influence our lives and in turn our health.
What does the research say about friendships?
Friendships are an essential part of our physical and mental well-being according to numerous researchers. When researchers examined the the characteristics of social networks including number of friends, frequency of contact and the similarity between friends; they discovered that these elements shape our subjective well-being. The more face-to-face contact we have with our friends decreases stress and generates greater social trust. So individuals with poor health had samller social netowrks and took on a less active role within their networks.
The same study found that friendships help fight disease and make you less vulnerable to illnesses. In addition, happy people are less likely to get ill and healthier people have greater happiness with their lives. The famous Nurse’s Health Study at Harvard Medical School produced similar results with the discovery that the greater number of friends women had, the less likely they were to develop physical impairments over time, and were more likely to lead a happier life. The researchers concluded that individuals without close friends was comparable to smoking or lugging around a few extra pounds.
Potential benefits include…
- Increase your sense of belonging and purpose Increased happiness
- Reduce stress
- Improve your self-worth
- Help cope with difficult life situations
- Encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits
*Source Mayo Clinic
How many friends should you have in your social network?
We all know that person who can walk into a room and have a connection with almost everyone. It seems like they have a million friends. And then there are people who have a really small and tight-knit group of friends. But the number of friends we have doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that we have them. Sure, you may have a broad social network, i.e. Facebook, but I’m talking about close friends. You know those people you can confide in and maybe actually meet face to face instead of cyberspace. Casual friends are nice too, for activities like going to the movies or playing sports. But the Mayo Clinic recommends quality over quantity when it comes to friends.
After celebrating a lovely Galentine’s Day on Wednesday filled with gluten free cupcakes, chocolate, and lots of laughter; I can definitely see the positive effects of friendships on my health. I have close friends that I confide in and trust because I know based on experience that they can help me cope with my stress and deal with difficult situations. These are the friends who act as a sounding board. I think close friends have a lot of value, but casual friends can also have a positive impact. Maybe my casual friends make me laugh or encourage me to get off my butt and go to the gym. Each friend close, causal, or acquaintance has value in their own way. And I think we need to celebrate that. Because of friends enrich our lives everyday without us really even noticing.
Happy Galentine’s Day everybody!
1.Michael YL, Colditz GA, Coakely E, Kawachi I. 1999. Health behaviors, social networks, and healthy aging: Cross-sectional evidence from the Nurses ‘ Health Study. Quality of Life Research.8(8): 711-722. doi: 10.1023/A:1008949428041. http://link.springer.com/article/10.1023%2FA%3A1008949428041?LI=true
2. Haas SA, Schaefer DR, Kornienko O. 2010. Health and the structure of adolescent social networks. Journal of Health and Social Behavior. 51(4): 424-39. doi:10.1177/0022146510386791 http://search.proquest.com.proxy.lib.umich.edu/docview/821711573/fulltextPDF?accountid=14667