Maximize Mental Health With Some Good Friends: Here’s How

There are many factors that affect mental and physical health, but having a few close friends may be among the most important variables of all. Friendship has been in turmoil lately, with more people finding it difficult to make friends, keep friends, and maintain friendships. So it’s perhaps no surprise that mental health is also deteriorating.

But mental health is critical – both for people and for businesses. And friendship is the key to improving it. For all kinds of health outcomes, friendship can be one of the best investments of your time and energy.

Friends Reduce Depression and Mortality

The evidence of social connections, social support and meaningful relationships is significant. A landmark study by Holt-Lunstad at Brigham Young University performed a meta-analysis and found that having a few close friends was more important to health outcomes (think: high blood pressure, heart disease, depression, cancer) than diet or sleeping habits. exercise—and it was on par with smoking.

Additionally, friendship has been linked to reduced depression and mortality, based on a study by Santini of the University of Barcelona. Longitudinal research found that when people felt less disconnected, less lonely and more socially connected, they were less likely to suffer from depression or anxiety.

Friends Spreading Happiness

Interestingly, happiness and positive mental health also have a network effect – spreading through interconnections between relationships. You’ve heard of six degrees of separation: the idea that all people are connected to each other in six or fewer social connections. Happiness is similarly connected. Based on a 20-year study of 5,000 people conducted by Christakis at Harvard, when an individual is happy, the feeling tends to spread across three degrees of separation. So if your colleague is happy, the positivity will spread to three others. In contrast, sadness does not seem to have this ripple effect. A study by Griffiths at the University of Warwick showed similar results – that happiness and positive mental health expanded among people in groups, while depression did not.

Receiving the benefits of social connections is good for your mental and physical health, but beyond that, when you give help and support, you also gain. This was the result of a study by Jiang at Ohio State University. There are benefits to being connected with other people, both in what you get out of the relationship and in what you offer.

friends at work

Work is a great place to make friends and is an increasingly important place for connections. Because people have fewer interactions with baristas (because they order through the app) or fewer conversations with strangers on the subway (because they’re subsumed in their smartphones) or reduced exchanges with the cashier (because the delivery arrived at their home), there are fewer exits to the connections that bind society together – and these superficial interactions are actually correlated with happiness. Fewer of these connections have an impact on overall happiness, connectedness, and mental health.

In the absence of other interactions, work plays an expanded role in giving people a sense of community. In fact, according to a YouGov survey, 75% of people make friends through work. There are good reasons for this. Work provides a place where you get to know people over time, interact with them on work assignments, and build relationships when you see them at the coffee machine—and see them on good days and bad. All this continuity and closeness is raw material for making friends and supporting them.

How to Make Friends and Keep Them

For your mental health, emphasizing friendship, being intentional, and investing effort are very wise choices. Here’s how to make it all happen.


When looking for more friends and meaningful friendships, focus on committing to relationships. Be intentional about reaching out and making time for people. Invite your teammate to a chat, start a one-on-one, or ask someone to get together so you can brainstorm. When you are with others, put your device away, focus and be present. Ask people questions, listen to their answers, and offer care and compassion.

And be sure to reciprocate. Relationships require a two-way investment, and shift-taking is one of the fundamental norms in lasting relationships. If your co-worker suggested lunch last time, you initiate coffee this time. Your own actions speak volumes about your interest in maintaining the relationship.


Another key to friendship is consistency. Social connection isn’t a numbers game, and it’s not a frantic approach to engaging with too many people, too many activities, or too much hustle – interacting until you’re exhausted. Rather, friendship may involve just a few intimate relationships and enough activities to keep you engaged – probably less for introverts and more for extroverts.

Generally, friendship requires around 60 hours of investment, so you’ll want to be selective about who you spend time with – and avoid spreading yourself too thin. Also make sure you maintain the friendship over time. The deeper your relationship goes, the easier it will be to catch up even if you don’t see each other for a while, but also try to stay in touch and check in regularly. Your friends may change a bit over time with the natural flow of where you work, what you do, where you live and your activities, but generally try to stay connected despite the shifts.


True empathy starts with curiosity. Tune in to people and cultivate an interest in them – what motivates them, how they think, and what you can learn from them. Actively look for relationships with people who are different from you and similar. Even the people you have a lot in common with will have a variety of experiences and perspectives, and valuing these — in all of your peers — will help you build relationships.

Your Mental Health

Mental health is critical to your overall well-being and health, and friendship is one of the key variables driving it. Be intentional with your friends, value them, and invest time. It will pay off for you and others.

Maximize Mental Health With Some Good Friends: Here’s How

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