The importance of good friends throughout our lives cannot be underestimated: Studies have shown that positive friendships make us healthier and happier; they reduce stress, and can even help us live longer. Having close, supportive friends who rally behind you, celebrate your successes as their own, and leave you feeling better about yourself is tantamount to a life well-lived. Sometimes though, we tend to forget to take care of numero uno, and instead of surrounding ourselves with friends who encourage us and foster positivity, we hang on to (and may even seek out) friendships that are far from ideal for many different, often complicated, reasons. Plus, it isn't always easy to realize (or admit) that a friendship has turned toxic, either.
Cultivating and maintaining mutually beneficial friendships means taking stock with an honest eye. If your self-esteem takes a hit every time you speak to certain people, or you feel betrayed and/or generally not supported (there's a difference between a typically encouraging friend who just happens to be temporarily crabby), then it's time to begin distancing yourself. Positivity among friends is absolutely crucial to our wellbeing.
Healthy Friendships Equate to a Healthy Life
Healthy friendships are indicators that you'll be better able to remain upbeat and able-bodied—both psychologically and physically—throughout your life, explains Kristen Fuller, M.D., via Psychology Today. And as we get older, the lack of close, positive friendships can even make us more likely to develop chronic illnesses such as depression, diabetes, and heart disease, she adds. So as you gauge the quality of your friendships, ask yourself if your close friends meet the following criteria:
They Offer Support Without Question
Positive friends always show up, you never need to beg for their help, they can easily empathize, they offer kind words whenever you're down, they're loyal, and they're good, objective listeners. A true friend always wants you to be happy—and they'll go out of their way to make it so. By contrast, an overly negative, toxic friend all but celebrates when you've hit the skids, shares your innermost thoughts with others, is critical and judgmental, is jealous of your success, and generally makes you feel worse and/or more stressed after having confided in them.
They're Inspiring and Encouraging
While good friends buoy and empower us in times of disappointment and loss, they also inspire us to be the best we can be: They're great at getting us to try new things; they're often doing great things themselves; they treat others (not just you) with respect, and they help keep us accountable in achieving our goals—no matter how silly or "out there" they may seem. Pessimistic, naysaying friends might list all the reasons you won't succeed; they'll talk you out of doing things that push your boundaries; they'll gloss over your achievements, and even mock your innermost hopes and dreams. (And who needs that, right?)
The truth is that however one goes about attaining and furthering healthy friendships has a lot to do with how we view and value ourselves, and how we interact with those we trust.
Attract Positive Friendships
To attract the friendship of supportive, optimistic people, you, too, must be a bastion of positivity and reciprocation. According to the therapist Suzanne Degges-Whites, Ph.D. in Psychology Today, assessing our own behavior is essential to building healthy relationships and inviting positive people into our orbit. So start by looking within. Ask yourself, 'Am I an empathetic, self-confident, dependable, honest, trustworthy, and supportive person who sees the humor in life?' If not, take steps—whether through therapy, meditation, or other wellness exercises—to adopt a more give-and-take attitude; a healthy friendship isn't a one-way street.
Know that we attract—and get back—whatever we put out into the universe. It's just the way the world works: If you're a downer, negative folks will flock to you. To attract positive friendships, act like the friend you want. Then, vow to spend more time nurturing the encouraging friends you already have and phase out the negative friendships that no longer suit you. And remember that friendship is all about quality, not quantity.
Chopik WJ. Associations Among Relational Values, Support, Health, and Well‐Being Across the Adult Lifespan. Pers Relationship. 2017;24 408-422. doi:10.1111/pere.12187
Fuller K. Why Do We Need Friends? Six Benefits of Healthy Friendships. Psychology Today. October 2, 2017.
Degges-White S. The 13 Essential Traits of Good Friends. Psychology Today. March 23, 2015.