Why Do We Need Friends?

“Do I really need friends to be happy? Could it be that friendship is overrated? What if my social anxiety keeps getting in the way of connecting with others? Also, it seems like friends just add drama and problems.” – Mike

With life being so busy, you may wonder, is it necessary to have friends? Moreover, if you struggle with making connections, you may doubt whether friendships are worth the effort.

After all, can it be enough to have meaningful relationships with family or partners? If friends have let you down in the past, should you continue putting yourself out there?

As it turns out, friendships are an essential part of our well-being- even if you have anxiety or low self-esteem, But what exactly makes these relationships so valuable? Let’s get into it.

We All Need Support

No matter your individual circumstances, life can be so challenging sometimes. We experience tragedy and trauma, heartbreaks and losses. During these dark times, having a support system is crucial. Support can give you the motivation to keep going- even if you feel discouraged.

If you have a close relative or family member, you may ask yourself, why is having friends important? It may seem like more work, especially if you already have a social connection with someone else.

With that in mind, it’s impossible to rely on one person to satisfy every social need. It’s also unhealthy and risky because this expectation can result in codependency. For more on codependency, check out this guide.

Ideally, it’s a good idea to have a few people who can help you feel connected and understood.

These positive feelings can be incredibly reassuring when you feel scared or hopeless.

Friends Can Give You What Toxic Family Members Can’t

Did you grow up in an abusive household? Do you have family members who can’t respect your boundaries? Are you estranged from your parents or siblings or children?

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Many of us wish we could change parts of our family. However, while you can’t choose your blood relatives, you can choose the family you create. You can create a makeshift family by choosing supportive friends who value you.

Of course, friends aren’t meant to be a literal replacement for family. They can’t replicate parents or siblings. However, they can provide you with the security and closeness we crave from loved ones. And even if you have a loving family, friends can offer additional support and guidance.

We Biologically Need Social Interaction

Do you think friends are just a luxury? You aren’t the only one who thinks that way. Friendships often rank last – behind relationships with partners or other family members. However, many scientists deem these social relationships essential for our survival.

Unfortunately, we are socializing less than we’ve ever done in the past. Subsequently, we’re also lonelier than we’ve ever been. This loneliness has a high cost. When you feel disconnected from others, you may be more prone to depression, anxiety, or low self-esteem.

Some research suggests this loneliness epidemic is due to modern changes in how we connect to other people. For example, we no longer live in tribes or villages where we work as a community to obtain resources. Many young adults leave their family’s house to live on their own. We talk less with neighbors and strangers. Additionally, we spend a great deal of time engaging with technology behind screens – and not with other people.[1]

While change can be good and independence is important, we haven’t outgrown the need for friendship. Like all mammals, humans are social creatures. Socialization is an imperative part of our evolution. We are literally wired to connect with other people, and research shows that this need is just as critical as food and shelter.[2]

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Spending Times With Friends Releases Feel-Good Hormones

Do you ever wonder why spending time with someone you love feels so good? At times, it may even feel euphoric. That’s because your brain is rewarding you for taking care of it!

Spending time with friends releases hormones like serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.[3] These hormones are important for well-being, happiness, problem-solving, connectivity, and emotional regulation. In other words, your brain depends on positive social interactions to function optimally.

Friends Boost Your Mental Health

Because your brain releases feel-good hormones when you spend time with friends, these relationships can boost your overall well-being.

Think about it. Good friends are ideally there for you in both good times and bad times. They also offer many benefits, including:

  • Improving your self-confidence and self-worth.
  • Supporting you through difficult transitions.
  • Increasing your sense of purpose and meaning in life.

These valuable benefits apply in every life stage. For example, teenagers with close friendships have lower rates of depression or anxiety later in life. Older adults with enriched social lives report higher levels of life satisfaction.[3]

They Can Improve Your Physical Health

Did you know that social isolation isn’t just mentally taxing? In some cases, it may even be downright debilitating to your health.

Research on loneliness shows it can be as dangerous as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or having an alcohol use disorder.[4] It can also increase your risk of having a heart attack by 50%. This article by HealthDay delves more into the health risks associated with limited social ties.

In addition to living longer, people with satisfying social lives tend to have fewer health problems and lower stress levels. They’re also less likely to struggle with obesity, cardiovascular issues, and high blood pressure.

They Can Increase Your Self-Confidence

Spending time with friends can help you feel better about yourself. One study found that people struggling with severe mental illness reported higher levels of self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-worth when they participated in weekly, peer-based social activities.[5]

Friends can increase your confidence in numerous ways, including:

  • Celebrating your successes.
  • Supporting your efforts to make healthy changes in your life.
  • Having your back when you need support or validation.
  • Accepting you for who you are.

Again, it’s not random that you feel good when you are around your friends. When you can truly be yourself (and be embraced for it), life tends to be far more satisfying. Moreover, you tend to feel more encouraged to take risks and make healthy changes in your life.

They May Help You Live Longer

Do you want to live a long and satisfying life? Oddly, it’s not about having close relationships with your family or children. Having friends may be the key to your mortality.

Research shows that people with more friends tend to outlive people with fewer or no friends by 22%. What’s more? A clinical review examining over 300,000 people found that people with strong social ties had a 50% greater chance of survival. This statistic occurred regardless of age, sex, and physical health.[4]

Of course, there isn’t a single cause for why this phenomenon occurs. Instead, researchers attribute it to the numerous benefits friends can provide, like greater support and improved physical health.

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Nicole Arzt, M.S., L.M.F.T. is a licensed marriage and family therapist. She provides therapeutic services for individuals, couples, and families. Nicole received her master’s of science degree from California State University, Long Beach in 2014.

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