The United Nations declared July 30 as International Day of Friendship. I honored the day by taking time to reflect on the benefits of friendship and the universal bond of motherhood:
It was my early days in New York City, having moved from Bali, Indonesia. The move to New York was proving to be a hard one. I left behind a lot in that move: a beautiful garden, house help, a nanny, and year round sunshine. The most important thing that I left—something I didn’t realize the magnitude of until I was in my new environment—was a tribe of friends like none I had ever known.
Aside from being the people who could make me laugh until my sides hurt, or hold intellectual conversations that taught and challenged me, my friends in Bali also showed up for my son and me in ways I hadn’t realized I needed. I rarely had to ask, they just showed up in truly magical ways. We were a crew of people from across the globe, brought together for a shared work environment, quickly bonded together as a chosen family.
I was lucky with that move. In retrospect, I had been lucky in so many of my work related moves, always finding a magnificent network of friends pretty quickly in the transition. My New York move, back to my home country, however, was proving to be more challenging.
For a variety of reasons, I was just struggling to find my tribe, and with day to day life being harder than I had experienced in the past, (no more help!) I was often overwhelmed. I have never been good at knowing how (or when) to ask for help, so I just waded through it thinking that this was the new normal for me. I was overlooking one important branch of my tribe: World Mom’s Network.
I am not sure how it all came about now, my memory has morphed it all like it was some superhero cartoon moment where Jennifer Burden, the founder of WMN, and editor Elizabeth Atalay swooped in wearing capes to help me out. I know I wrote to my editor to say: “I need to step back from World Moms, I am just too overwhelmed with life…” And then there was a text from Jennifer saying: “What can I do?!?!” and in my discomfort with asking for help, I weakly said: “I don’t know! Maybe get my son out of the house so I can get some work done?”
Without hesitation, the two women came and took my son, along with Jennifer’s two daughters, out for pizza and a walk in the VERY cold park, giving me a few hours to work. Their gesture contributed a lot more than that to my life. Up until that moment, these were people whom I had only known through our social media group, World Moms Network, yet here they were, dropping their lives to step in and help me out. They showed up. They encouraged me to ask for help. They reminded me of the importance of reaching out. They modeled the values of the World Moms Network: women showing up to support other women.
This one small example of friendship in action speaks to the benefits of having your tribe. The benefits of friendship are so far reaching that the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed 30 July as International Day of Friendship, with the idea that friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and build bridges between communities.
While the resolution places focus on involving young people, as future leaders, in events that include different cultures and promote international understanding and respect for diversity, the day has become a time for all people to celebrate the friendships in their lives.
The benefits of finding your tribe:
The old adage says that friends are our “chosen family,” or “found family.” They are the people who have intentionally chosen to embrace us for all that we are, sharing our interests and values, and often encouraging us to be our best selves. Our friendship groups can become our tribe, seeing us through the many stages of life. While we can all speak to the value of friends for fun, research also tells us that having friends is an important part of our overall well being.
Friends are good for our mental and physical well-being, even contributing to longevity of life. Having a close circle of friends can decrease certain health risks like diabetes, depression, heart attack, and stroke. A study published by PNAS, found that people with a friendship network live up to 50% longer than those who do not. (1) A small Harvard study also found that friends can help to reduce the hormone cortisol in times of stress. (2) These studies, and many more, show that friendships are an important element in our physical and mental health. While many people may be tempted to withdraw during hard times, research shows that we are likely to weather it better when we have friends by our side.
One reason for the potential longevity factor is that friends can help encourage us as we go through lifestyle changes. For example, friends can help us set and achieve healthy goals, serving as accountability partners. Friends can also alert us when we are getting off track, or when certain behaviors get out of hand (like overworking, or drinking too much). (3) People are more motivated to take on changes and maintain healthy behaviors when they are surrounded by people with similar goals, and have a group encouraging them along the way. Do you want to get fit, or stay on track with healthy eating? Consider forming a friendship walking group, or if that’s not possible, create a texting group with friends who share the same goal; a daily check in can be the thing that helps you stay on track!
Friends can also help us to step outside of our comfort zone, taking on new activities and learning about things we may not have considered without their influence. I often credit my friends with being my resource for courage- I know I never would have gone ziplining or rafting down a rapid river if it weren’t for friends introducing me to new activities. I have a group of friends now with a promise of “Yes,” meaning when one says: “Let’s try…” the others say YES.
Friends can serve as valuable mirrors, helping us to see our strengths and reminding us of who we are. They can encourage us when we are down, and offer reassurance when we doubt our abilities. If we are stepping away from our best selves or outside of our values, our friends can serve as a compass that can bring us back home. When I have struggled with something, having a friend say: “The Erin I know would…” has served as a wonderful reminder of my own strengths, and helps boost my spirits to see myself through the positive lens of a friend.
Finding your tribe:
With all of the benefits of friends being listed, it may be obvious that we should choose our friends wisely, as the old adage says: we are the company we keep! Our friendship circles can significantly influence our own lifestyle choices and personal motivation. Selecting our chosen family for their positive influence (and the contributions we can make to their lives) has the potential to make a big difference in the trajectory of our lives.
As we get older, the demands of life can make it hard to find and nurture our friendships. Despite the effort it takes, the benefits are well worth the effort.
A few things you can do to make new friends include:
- Join a fitness center with accountability groups, or join a 30 day fitness challenge to connect with others who are interested in a healthy lifestyle.
- Check out events with social groups like meet up or Internations to find people who share your interests or to find people with a similar zest for new adventures!
- Join affinity groups within your community, either through a local place of worship or community service group. Finding people committed to their beliefs and service can help you connect to people with shared values.
- Connect with World Moms Network contributors and tribe members! Moms from around the world are here to support you and may become your new BFF.
A few things you can do to honor your friendships include:
- Send a handwritten card or flowers for a special occasion or just because! Let your friends know they are on your mind and that you value them.
- Check in with your friends for no reason. A quick call or even just a voice memo to say “I am thinking of you,” can make a world of difference for someone.
- Make a commitment for a once a month friend date, whether that be face to face or online, time together can help strengthen the ties that bind you.
- Avoid being a friendship vampire! Whilst we can benefit a great deal from the friendships in our lives, it is important to consider our own contribution and keep things in balance. Ensure that the give and take in your friendship circle is reciprocal in nature.
When I was in Girl Scouts, we used to sing a song: “Make new friends, but keep the old, one is silver and the other gold.” As I have gone through my life, the truth in that simple little refrain becomes more and more apparent. Friendship, for all of its benefits, is truly worth celebrating. Happy International Day of Friendship!
- Yang YC, Boen C, Gerken K, Li T, Schorpp K, Harris KM. Social relationships and physiological determinants of longevity across the human life span. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016;113(3):578-583. doi:10.1073/pnas.1511085112
- Harvard Medical School. The health benefits of strong relationships. Updated August 6, 2019.
- Craddock E, vanDellen MR, Novak SA, Ranby KW. Influence in relationships: A meta-analysis on health-related social control. Basic Appl Soc Psych. 2015;37(2):118-130. doi:10.1080/01973533.2015.1011271
This is an original post for World Moms Network by our contributor in Switzerland, Erin Threlfall. The photograph of the author with WMN founder, Jennifer Burden (l) and WMN Senior Editor, Elizabeth Atalay (r), is credited to the author.