Friendship is one of the most beautiful parts of life. It makes us feel joy in our most difficult times. A healthy friendship provides support and companionship alongside feeling understood by another person. Friendship makes us feel connected and loved. It's said that friends are the family you choose, and while a biological connection can't be denied, the power of friendship shouldn't be underestimated. From sharing laughter to offering a shoulder to cry on, friends contribute greatly to our overall wellbeing and quality of life.
Friendship contributes to a joyful life in many ways, from sharing laughter to sharing tears. When you're around friends who make you laugh, it's hard not to feel happy yourself. Laughter has well-documented benefits for physical health, mental health and relationships. It helps us relax and release tension, improves our moods, reduces stress hormones and boosts immunity. In addition to making us laugh, good friends are also there for us when we need someone to lean on. In tough times, they offer support and understanding without judgment. They help us get through difficult situations by simply being present and providing a listening ear. Research shows that social support is linked with better mental and physical health outcomes in times of stress — so having close friends in our lives can make all the difference when weathering life's storms.
There are many ways friendship contributes to a joyful life. Here are five:
- Friendship provides support: In good times and bad, our friends are there for us. They offer a shoulder to cry on when we’re going through a tough time and they celebrate with us when something great happens. This support system is crucial for a joyful life.
- Friendship boosts our mood: Spending time with friends is, simply, fun. We laugh more, feel happier, and worry less when we’re around the people we love. This boost in mood can make a big difference in our overall happiness levels.
- Friendship gives us someone to rely on: We all need someone we can count on from time to time. Whether it’s help with car repairs or just someone to talk to, friendships provide this valuable resource that contribute significantly to a joyful life.
- Friendship helps keep stress levels down: When we have close friends, we tend to confide in them about the things that are stressing us out. This conversation can help relieve some of the tension and pressure we feel. Reducing stress leads to better physical and mental health, both of which are necessary for a joyful life.
- Finally, friendships add variety to our daily lives: Life can get pretty routine at times, but good friends will always bring something slightly different to the table, whether it’s a new restaurant to try, or an invitation to go hiking on a Saturday morning. New experiences keep us fresh and excited about life in general, leading more joyful existence.
However, sometimes we find ourselves in a toxic friendship, where we feel like our care is unreciprocated or we feel as if we are taken advantage of — and sometimes it's difficult to realize we are in a toxic relationship. Here are five ways to recognize a healthy friendship, and five ways to recognize a toxic one.
Five ways to recognize a healthy friendship:
- Mutual trust: Trust means feeling confident in the relationship you share. It means you feel comfortable being yourself around each other, and are open to hearing each other's thoughts and feelings without judgment. It also means you know the other person has got your back when it comes down to tough times. The relationship feels safe and accepting, and you know the other person truly listens to what you have to say. You know the other person will not only back you up when you need it, but will also not be afraid to put you in your place when you’re in the wrong. Mutual trust means trusting each other to always look out for the other person’s best interests, and knowing the other person would do the same for you.
- Support: Understanding each other's feelings, and being there for each other when needed, whether it’s just lending a listening ear or offering practical assistance, are great signs of a healthy friendship. Recognize the times when it’s necessary to tell them what they need to hear, even if they may not want to; but also recognize the times when they may not need any advice, just someone to listen without feeling judged or like a burden.
- Mutual respect for boundaries: In a healthy friendship it’s important to have boundaries. They help ensure that each person feels comfortable and respected. Boundaries can also help avoid misunderstandings and hurt feelings. They keep a friendship strong over time by providing structure and stability. Without boundaries, friends may begin to take each other for granted or feel like they can never say no. This can lead to resentment and eventually the end of the friendship. By setting clear boundaries from the beginning, friends can avoid these problems and enjoy a lasting, supportive relationship.
- Communication: It is important to value communication in a healthy friendship. Communicate openly and honestly. Don’t be afraid to share both positive and negative feelings. Judgment is not a part of a healthy friendship. Communication allows you to express your feelings and thoughts honestly, helping avoid misunderstandings or hurt feelings. It gives you an opportunity to bond with your friend on a deeper level, sharing stories, experiences, hopes and dreams — things that you might not feel comfortable sharing with anyone else. Communicating openly with your friend shows that you trust and respect them enough to be honest with them. It builds closeness and creates a stronger foundation for the friendship overall.
- Encourage each other to succeed: There are many reasons why encouraging each other to succeed is important in a healthy friendship. For one, when we see our friends succeed, it reminds us of our own potential and encourages us to stay motivated in pursuing our own goals. Additionally, celebrating our friends' successes helps foster a positive environment where we feel good about ourselves and each other — something that is essential for any strong friendship. And, by supporting each other's accomplishments, we create an atmosphere of trust and mutual respect — two key aspects of any lasting bond.
On the other hand, here are five signs of a toxic friendship:
- Disregard of boundaries: Disregarding each other’s boundaries is a huge red flag in any sort of relationship. It can show a lack of respect for your friend's personal space and privacy. Additionally, crossing boundaries can also be a way for one friend to control or manipulate the other. If you find yourself in a friendship where boundaries are constantly being crossed, it may be time to reassess the relationship. A healthy friendship is built on trust, respect, and communication — not on crossing personal boundaries.
- Being overly critical: If your friend is constantly putting you down, making you feel bad about yourself or making you doubt your abilities, it is a sign of a toxic friendship. Constantly nitpicking and passing judgment on one another undermines trust and builds resentment. It may start to make you wonder if you can ever do anything right in your eyes, which leads to insecurity and anxiety; and that's not the basis for any healthy relationship — platonic or otherwise.
- Always needing to be right: When someone is always needing to be right, it can be a very toxic trait in a friendship. If your friend cannot tolerate differing opinions and must always be right, then this indicates an unhealthy need for control. This person is likely to constantly start arguments or put their friends down in order to make themselves feel better. They might also manipulate situations so that they come out on top. This need for control and power can eventually lead to the downfall of the friendship.
- Making everything about them: If your friend only ever talks about themselves without any interest in hearing about you too, then this is narcissistic behavior that isn’t a part of a supportive friendship. If your friend doesn’t seem to be truly listening to what you have to say, but always seems to respond with something about themself, this can cause your self-confidence to drop and increase anxiety. This can also express itself behaviorally like disregarding your feelings through their actions, such as doing something you asked them not to, or not looking out for your feelings.
- Lying: This one is a bit obvious and self-explanatory, but it can oftentimes be easy to miss or overlook in a friendship. It creates an environment of mistrust and suspicion. When someone lies to you, it makes you question their motives and whether or not they are really your friend. Lying also erodes the foundation of trust that is necessary for any healthy relationship. A friend who lies to you is not looking out for your best interests. They may be trying to manipulate you or take advantage of you in some way. If you can't trust your friend, then the friendship is not worth maintaining. It's important to be honest with yourself about what kind of friends you want in your life and to surround yourself with people who have integrity.
Overall, it’s important to recognize the traits in a healthy friendship and a toxic one in order to live a happy life. Friendships become a huge part of our lives in the long run, and all relationships can change who we are as a person. Sometimes we need to go through toxic friendships to learn important life lessons, and once we realize that we can know what to look for in a true, healthy friendship. Healthy friendships can become lifelong, and can influence the most important milestones in our lives in the best way.