Ten Keys to Building Better Friendships and Greater Happiness

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As women, friendships are essential to well-being. They provide a unique intimacy that differs from the bonds shared with partners or other family members. Research repeatedly shows that women are healthiest, happiest and most resilient when they have good, supportive friendships.
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Friendships act as a buffer against the stress in our tumultuous lives. They boost our well-being and shape who we are and who we hope to become.
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Being able to share from our hearts and reveal our true selves with a circle of loving and supportive friends makes our dreams and intentions seem entirely possible.
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As women we are hardwired for this kind of attachment. We laugh, cry, talk and engage in a way that helps us navigate our way through challenges and losses. We tend to band together for protection and support.
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One study showed that most women feel more attractive and experience higher self-esteem when connected to women friends. Another powerful study of almost 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that women without close friends were four times more likely to die from cancer than were their women counterparts with 10 or more friends. Interestingly, having a spouse did not affect survival rates.
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Friendships a Predictor of Quality of Life
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Social support also helps us to lower blood pressure, protects us against cardiovascular disease and dementia, and reduces the risk of depression.
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When we have our “tribe,” “team,” “sanga” —our community in place—we continue to learn and grow from each other. For example when a romantic relationship ends, women tend to turn to their friends for closeness and support. Friendships carry us through the most challenging times and can be our most enduring relationships.
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Decline of Friendships
Even though we know the importance of social networks—there has been a decline over the past 40 years in women’s friendships and experience of happiness.
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One study showed that in 1985 most people reported having three close friends as compared to the number zero that many revealed more recently. Having few or no close friends puts us at greater risk for poor health than obesity, lack of exercise, and smoking.
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Ten Steps to Fortify Friendships and Happiness
  1. Build your community of at least five friends. Choose friends that you trust and can share the important stuff of your life. Join a group or community of friends if these relationships are not already in place. It may take time to put together your network but your health and happiness hinge upon these vital connections.
  2. Reach out to your friend rather than hoping that certain people will include you or reach out to you first. Make dates and plans together and stick to those commitments.
  3. Listen actively and deeply to the words and nonverbal communication that your friend conveys. Consider “tone over content” matters most. Check out with her to make sure you understand what is being communicated.
  4. Surround yourself with friends make you happy. More often than not you feel a sense of joy after spending time together. If you consistently feel let down after an encounter, reassess the importance you wish to give to this friendship. This is about valuing your own time and preserving your emotional well-being.
  5. Create rituals. Girls night out, periodic outings, dinner or lunch dates are great ways to spend time together. Celebrate each other’s life passages is another way of building a deeper sense of connection and fun into your life.
  6. Be patient with your friends. Listen even when the conversation doesn’t grab your interest. Allow yourself to attend to what is important to her and trust that she will offer the same kindness in turn.
  7. Be quick to forgive and assume the best. Keep in mind that we are all imperfect. It’s better to err on the side of generosity and forgive. This is best for your own health and fosters the relationship.
  8. Savor time with friends. Stop the texting or glancing at your phone and devote your complete attention. This will make your friend feel cared for and you better able to listen authentically
  9. Celebrate each other’s accomplishments. We tend to rush to the aid of friends around losses and hardship. Sharing successes with your friends strengthens your bond happiness factor.
  10. Be compassionate. Practice loving-kindness. Keep an open mind about how the relationships should go. Be present for whatever comes up. Writing the script for any friendship limits its potential.

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The unique bonds that women establish together often run deep and can outlast relationships with partners. There is no manual for how to navigate through these sometimes complex relationships. Friendships require our time and commitment in order for us to thrive throughout the life cycle.

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What are doing to fortify your friendships?

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