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Real Friends: The Key to a Healthy Life

Feeling isolated can make you sick.

Julianne Holt-Lunstad, a psychologist at Brigham Young University who consolidated data from over 140 investigations published over 28 years, reveals that feeling unpopular, disconnected or lonely predicts our life span. Those with a larger network of friends had an increased rate of survival. And the greater the quality of friendship, the longer the life. Being unpopular increases our chance of death more strongly than obesity, physical inactivity or binge drinking.

Accumulating more likes on your Facebook page is not the answer.

A college student I know told me that she felt down during her first year away from home. Despite hundreds of Facebook friends there were very few ‘real’ people whom she could count on. No one knew what she was going through. Her online photos showed smiling faces and a good time. She got lots of ‘likes’. The moment she realized that it all meant nothing was eye opening.

Retweets do not make for a better life.

Researchers reveal that most of us are putting our energy into the wrong type of ‘popular’. We can be popular through status, which means we have visibility, power, and followers. We are prominent and seen on social media. Our influence is felt as our posts get forwarded.

But then there is becoming popular through likability. Qualities like kindness, selflessness and loyalty bring popularity that is life changing. Genuine relationships are forged. Connections are made that generate positive feedback and physical well-being. Life becomes more beautiful when shared with cherished family and friends.

Status achievers gain a popularity that breeds unhappiness and loneliness. Feelings of fulfillment arrive when likability accompanies popularity. No amount of social media followers can take the place of sharing time with a good friend.

Creating Connections

We have lost the art of connection.

The Hot Black Café in Toronto has declined to offer Wi-Fi to its customers and more cafes are following suit. The aim is to get customers to interact instead of getting displaced in their phones. Think of coworkers waiting for their weekly meeting to begin. Instead of asking about family, vacation plans and how life has been, each individual is looking down silently. Where is the camaraderie?

Have you been to a restaurant lately? Watch as entire families ignore each other. They are each on their own device. Toddlers and young children think this is normal; this is all they see. We are investing more energy into the person on our screen than those who are sitting right across from us.

Real friendship requires presence. Nothing can replace seeing sorrow etched on the face of a companion and offering a hand in comfort. Looking into someone’s eyes transforms dark moments and make them bearable. Giving a hug conveys love. We create a deeper sense of connection. We bond and relieve isolation. Human beings thrive when we feel that we are not alone, that we are cared for deeply and cherished. You can’t gain that spark of friendship online. It remains a surface connection.

Texting demands zero giving and zero sacrifice. Socializing in person requires a listening ear and heart.

Decide to take the time to initiate deeper personal connections. Choose a friend with whom you’ve lost some touch with. Rebuild bonds by setting aside time, sharing experiences and catching up in with no interruptions. You will discover the joy of friendship as you laugh together, mull over life, and try to find solutions to the problems that weigh you down.

The Positive Force of Friendship

In the book The Happiness Trap, we learn that “People who feel more connected to others have lower levels of anxiety and depression. They have higher self-esteem, greater empathy for others, are more trusting and cooperative and as a consequence, others are more open to trusting and cooperating with them.” More than 25 percent of Americans revealed that they have no one to confide in, no one to share their problems with. No wonder that feeling loneliness and isolation has brought sadness to so many.

The Talmud tells the story of a righteous man named Choni who fell into a deep sleep for many years. His family and friends believed him to be dead. When he finally awoke and returned home no one would believe it was him. He went to the house of study where he used to teach, but no one recognized him. They quoted his teachings. “I am Choni!” he said. They, too, did not believe him. He became so distressed and anguished. He needed his family, he yearned for his friends. Broken hearted, he died. Our Sages taught that this is an example of the popular saying: “O chavrusa, O misusa” – either friendship or death.

How painful are these poignant words. If we are blessed to have a family of friends and friends who are like family, make the time and investment to tap in to this incredible source of potential happiness and good health.

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