I was fortunate to read an advance copy of Lydia Denworth’s new book, Friendship: The Evolution, Biology, and Extraordinary Power of Life’s Fundamental Bond. It’s an interesting read because Denworth meets scientists at the frontiers of brain and genetics research and discovers that friendship is reflected in our brain waves, our genomes, and our cardiovascular and immune systems; its opposite, loneliness, can kill. At long last, social connection is recognized as critical to wellness and longevity. Reading Lydia Denworth’s book will help you understand the deep importance and benefits of retirement friendship, in fact, friendships of all types.
The book was a real eye-opener and got me to thinking about the role of friendships in my own life, as well as in the people I know. There is no doubt that some of us (me included) need friends more than others. As humans, we range from highly solitary to highly social, with most falling somewhere in between. One of my friends describes himself as a loner and has stated that he could easily live with little socialization. Not sure what that says for our friendship but I could not make that same statement. I readily admit that I need a good number of friends, including a few close ones.
Another factor in friendships is the amount of close family nearby. There are those who live around lots of family members and these relatives serve their prime social network. And for those that have little or no family around, friendships can fill that void. This is especially important for retired people who move to places where don’t have an existing social network. For many, friends become like family, and unlike family, you get to select your friends!
Benefits of Retirement Friendships
So, what are the benefits of friendship:
Friends bring us companionship. Doing stuff by yourself just isn’t as much fun. Lack a friend and you may also lack a dance partner, designated driver, travel buddy, workout partner, or just someone to share the adventures of life.
Friends support and encourage. A true friend is there when times are good and equally, if not more important, when things are not good. They act as a listener, counsellor, and most important, someone to reassure you that things will work out okay. There is nothing like a good friend when your self-esteem is lagging.
Friends enrich our lives. Every friend brings something different of value. One shows you the beauty of compassion, while another stretches your creative imagination and still another inspires you to try new adventures. This is how I did my first and only parachute jump, but that’s another story!
Friends share honest opinions. Just as friends support and encourage you, the good ones also tell you when you are not being your best self. Frank thoughts coming from those that have your best interest at heart can be a powerful catalyst for change.
Friends expose you to new ideas. Many of us have a tendency to make friends with those who are most like us in areas like age, work, religion, hobbies, politics, and social status. However, expanding your circle past these artificial barriers can have large benefits. You learn that people who are different bring fresh viewpoints that expand your world.
Friends lend a hand. We all run into life situations where the assistance of a friend can save the day: your car won’t start, the babysitter is ill, you need a place to store something, you’re away from home and you left the oven on, and many other scenarios.
Friends help you mark the milestones in your life. There is little as satisfying as sitting with a long-time friend and reminiscing about the positive rites of passage you have shared together, including marriages, the births of children and grandchildren, new jobs, promotions, and so forth. Of course, your friends have also been there in the dark times: death, divorce, job loss, and many others.
And yes, I realize that your spouse or relationship partner can meet some of these needs. But there is no doubt that you and your partner are both better served by having extra people in your lives. It’s a rare thing for two people in a relationship to not require outside friends, and if one of you does and the other doesn’t, this can lead to serious problems downstream.
The late (and great) human potential teacher Jim Rohn, had an interesting perspective on friendships as reported in this article. “Traveling around the world, I have made some unique friends. And I do have one particularly special friend. If I were stuck in a Mexican jail and unduly accused, I would call this friend. Why? He would come and get me. Now that is a friend: someone who would come and get you.
“How much would he would spend to get me? As much as it would take. How long would he would try to get me out? As long as it would take. That is a friend. I also have some casual friends who would probably say, “Call me when you get back.” I guess we all have some of those friends.
I agree with Mr. Rohn that friendship is important to those in search of the good life. Make sure your friendships get the attention and the effort they deserve. Properly nourished, they will give back to you that priceless treasure of both pleasure and satisfaction called “the good life.”
Retirement friendships are special. I hope you have at least one friend who would come get you out of that Mexican jail. And regardless of the state of friendships in your life, we can all do better in this area. Here is an article to help you find great new connections. Don’t forget to read Lydia Denworth’s book on friendship. You will be glad that you took the time.