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What is the importance of good friends? What aspects of life depend on friendship?
Friendships allow us to be with like-minded people who help us grow. Outside of sharing interests, friendships can benefit other areas of our lives, such as our romantic relationships and self-esteem.
Let’s break down the importance of good friends by looking at four reasons why they matter in your personal life.
1. Friendship Is the Foundation of Marriage
Friendship is the foundation of strong, long-lasting marriages. In The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work, John Gottman and Nan Silver argue that if you want a long-lasting and happy marriage, you must improve your marital friendship. In other words, you and your spouse must hold each other in high esteem and genuinely appreciate the time you spend together.
Gottman and Silver explain that being good friends with your partner supports a happy marriage because it encourages a phenomenon known as “positive sentiment override,” or PSO. If you have PSO, you trust that your partner is doing their best and assume that they have positive intentions. So you interpret your partner’s actions in the best possible way—which maintains positivity in the relationship.
But if you don’t have a strong marital friendship, you may experience the opposite of PSO: “negative sentiment override,” or NSO. If you have NSO, you assume that your partner is sabotaging you and has negative intentions. NSO leads you to interpret your partner’s actions in the worst possible way—fostering negativity that permeates and ultimately destroys your relationship.
How to Improve Your Marital Friendship
Now that you know the importance of good friends for your marriage, let’s look at how you can improve your marital friendship. Gottman and Silver say you must follow four principles:
- Keep getting to know your partner. Making an effort to connect with your partner helps you maintain your connection through major life changes. For example, if your partner is laid off, regularly connecting with them during that time keeps you updated on what’s going on with them—so you don’t wake up one day and realize that they’ve changed so much that they’re now a virtual stranger.
- Foster and communicate affection. The more you pay attention to your partner’s positive qualities, the more likely you are to respect them—and the less likely you are to find them contemptible. Also, if your marriage is in trouble, optimistically seeking out your partner’s positive qualities helps you gain a more authentic picture of your marriage. Researchers have found that unhappy couples regularly overlook positive exchanges they have with their partner—which erodes their marital satisfaction.
- Regularly respond to your partner’s overtures. Doing this improves your marital happiness by building up positive sentiment between the two of you—which allows you to weather life’s inevitable challenges.
- Keep an open mind. Learning to be receptive is especially important for husbands for two reasons. First, studies indicate that if a man isn’t receptive to his wife, the couple is far more likely to divorce. Gottman and Silver attribute this reality to how unreceptive men respond to negative feedback: Instead of acknowledging their wife’s feelings, they respond in ways that increase negative feelings between the couple. Second, Gottman and Silver suggest that receptive husbands have happier marriages because they learn from their wives how to better manage their emotions.
2. Friendship Offers New Connections and Interests
Making new friends throughout your life can provide you with greater feelings of connection and can introduce you to new perspectives and interests. It’s easy to get comfortable with the friends you have and become a bit resistant to widening your circle. To combat this tendency, The Happiness Project by Gretchen Rubin established a friend-making goal—in each new social situation she encountered, she set a goal to make three new friends.
This method seems a bit too calculated for a social endeavor, but she found that it makes you more open to socializing in a few key ways:
- Instead of deciding if you like people when you meet them, your goal reframes your thought to, “Could we be friends?” This helps you become more interested in really getting to know the people you meet, instead of just exchanging pleasantries.
- You might act more friendly than you would otherwise—it’s difficult to make friends if you’re acting withdrawn. Furthermore, studies find that acting in an outgoing and friendly way makes people feel happier—extroverts and introverts alike.
The Tipping Point by Malcolm Gladwell also discusses the importance of good friends in helping you make new connections. People who are known as “connectors” tend to be connected to many communities—whether through interests and hobbies, jobs that cause them to work with people in other fields, or other experiences. Everyone should strive to become a connector because every time you make a new friend, you occupy many different worlds and bring them together.
3. Friendship Helps You Grow by Being Yourself
Flow by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi suggests that in contrast to relationships with family members, it’s easier to enjoy friendships because you’re able to choose friends that have similar goals and interests—your friends affirm your current goals. People report their most positive moods with friends and tend to associate friendships with adventure and excitement. In contrast, people tend to associate family with warmth and comfort.
Friendship can be a life-changing experience because it’s one of the only relationships in which you can fully express yourself. With your family, you may have to fit a certain role, such as being respectful to your parents, or if you’re a parent, providing care to your children. At work, your behavior may be expected to reflect your role. In contrast, with friends, you can afford to show your true self because your goals are similar.
For a friendship to be enjoyable, you have to find new challenges to work on together. Intimate friendships are much more likely to provide these experiences. For example, working to understand each other’s uniqueness can be enjoyable. You have to share yourself and pay attention to them when they do the same.
You’ll have more enjoyable experiences with friends who challenge you and help you grow than with casual friends. If your friends affirm you without questioning you at all, it won’t be as enjoyable. For example, regularly going out with drinking buddies and shooting darts or playing cards might be a pleasurable way to affirm your identity and ward off loneliness, but it won’t bring the same enjoyment that more complex, growth-producing activities do. With drinking buddies, you can participate in the group’s banter and joking, but a lot of the dialogue is predictable and doesn’t produce flow like a more original conversation would.
Belonging Versus Fitting In
To understand the importance of a good friend’s impact on your self-esteem, you have to know the difference between “belonging” and “fitting in.” You want to be your true self around others, and not change who you are to impress people. In Atlas of the Heart, Brené Brown says that belonging is when you can truly be yourself, and the people around you love you for it. To put it another way, belonging means being someplace where you want to be, and others want you there; it’s a true connection with a group of people.
Conversely, “fitting in” is the near enemy of belonging: It resembles true belonging but lacks connection and love. It’s being somewhere you don’t necessarily want to be, and where you have to adjust your behavior to match the others. Far from trying to forge genuine connections, you’re putting up a false front just to avoid negative attention.
Another way to look at the difference between belonging and fitting in is: Fitting in means changing yourself to match your environment, while belonging means finding or creating an environment that matches you. In other words, fitting in means focusing outward, while belonging means focusing inward. Therefore, it’s natural that true belonging is more personally fulfilling than simply fitting in.
4. Friendship Offers Support Through Tough Times
Robin Sharma’s input on why good friends are important is that they attract support. In his book Who Will Cry When You Die?, he recommends investing time and energy into forming good friendships that will stay strong through tough times. Putting yourself out there can be difficult, but taking the initiative typically pays off. New friendships add not only joy but also support in your life. If you’re struggling with a new job, it feels reassuring to talk about it to your friend if you knew they’d listen.
Sharma recommends building an active group of three to four people who offer mutual support in achieving goals. Pick a few friends who have a good head on their shoulders and to whom you, in turn, have something to offer. Set up a weekly meeting with this group to talk through current challenges.
However, not everyone may know four such people, though, and studies even showed that in 2004, many Americans had no close friends. To meet more people to add to your trusted group of supporters, expand your network of casual friendships and acquaintances. Casual acquaintances can eventually become trusted confidants.
Whether you have one or many friends, it’s important to keep them close. You never know when you’ll need a shoulder to cry on or someone to hang out with on the weekend. Keep your options open, and you’ll discover the importance of good friends in life.
What are other reasons why friendships are important? Let us know in the comments below!
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