Why friendship makes us feel so good, proven by science

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Friends. Not only are they there to pass the tissues after a break-up, make you laugh-off a stressful day in the office, or offer sage dating advice over a pint: they can also boost your health and wellbeing better than a turmeric shot. True friendship is, quite literally, a lifesaver. 

Repeated studies have shown mates can make you happier, healthier and could even help you live longer. 

Good friendship can brighten up your world and pull you through when times get tough. 

Science has proved that people with a wide network of friends suffer less stress and have a stronger immune systems, while strong social bonds can encourage good mental health. Here’s the science behind why our friends make us feel so good.


Friendship makes you live longer

Remember this the next time you skip the gym for a boozy night in the pub with your pals: having a good social network could have a greater effect on your life expectancy than a regular spin class or treadmill session.

It’s the boost you need to spread your social-butterfly wings and reach out to friends old and new. 

One study by researchers at Brigham Young University looked back on 100 years of friendship across 48 previous studies and found that a healthy social life could boost longevity by as much as 50%.

Such is the power of good relationships.

The study concluded that maintaining good bonds with friends, family and even colleagues was as good for long-term survival as giving up a 15-cigarette-a-day smoking habit, and perhaps even more important than exercising or beating obesity.

Co-author of the study, Julianne Holt-Lunstad, said there was strong evidence linking social relationships to lower blood pressure, a stronger immune system, and that they may even reduce inflammation and help heal wounds.

Friendship is thought to be such a force of good because it acts as a buffer in stressful situations and helps build healthy habits; the emotional support we receive from our personal relationships is essential to good health.

Who knew your friends had superpowers!


The power of empathy 

Empathy is a cornerstone to building human relationships.

But now scientists at the University of Virginia have found that the bond between close friends is so strong that not only can we imagine a mate’s pain or fear, we actually experience it ourselves.

The group studied brain scans from 22 different people who were under threat of receiving small electrical shocks to either themselves, a friend, or a stranger.

They discovered that the brain activity of a person in danger was essentially the same as when they were feeling the same threat (the same wasn’t true of the strangers, which could explain our fellow commuters).

Director of the study, James Coan explained: “Our self comes to include who we become close to. People close to us become a part of ourselves, and that is not just metaphor or poetry, it’s very real. Literally we are under threat when a friend is under threat.”


Happiness is contagious

Being happy is as infectious as a cold, according to a Harvard Medical School study.

The researchers found that happiness spreads through social groups like a Hollywood-style contagious outbreak, with one person’s endorphin-high triggering a chain reaction that ripples through to friends’ friends and their friends – meaning someone you have never met could be putting that smile on your face.

The happiness radar is stronger at the core of a friendship group, and you’re more likely to be infected by happiness the nearer you live to a mate.

The study looked at the happiness of nearly 5,000 individuals over a period of 20 years and found that when an individual becomes happy, a friend living within a mile has a 25% increased chance of also becoming happy.

And the joy you get from a contented friendship pool isn’t just a fleeting pick-me-up; the glow can last as long as a year.

And here’s a reason to get to know your neighbour: living next door to a cheerful person boosts your chances of receiving a happiness lift by 34%.

While getting to know new people is always daunting, the joy of new friendship is always worth it. 

Finding friendship through solo travel

Friendship is the ultimate first defence

Forget the vitamin C and kale smoothies – it’s your friends who can increase your chances of fighting off the common cold.

Several studies have shown the immune boosting benefits of pals; one particular study gave people a shot of a cold virus and sent them away to a hotel for a week while the researchers sat back and waited to see who got ill.

The participants who were regularly in touch with a wider social circle – including parents, partners, colleagues and their fellow virus-infected volunteers – were less likely to come down with a cold.

Friendship is the best remedy

Friendship makes the hill worth the climb

We all know the power of ranting about your ex over a bottle of wine with supportive mates, or that pep talk before a big job interview.

Now scientists have found that friendship really can make the insurmountable look far less challenging, quite literally: a study discovered that mates actually made a hill seem less steep. How’s that for a metaphor.

Participants in the 2012 study who were accompanied by a friend estimated a hill to be less steep when compared to participants who were alone.

And mates don’t even need to be by your side to make you feel better; the study found that people who simply thought of a supportive friend during an imagery task saw a hill on less of a gradient.

Finding friends abroad

Friends are good for your career

Colleagues are more than just people to have a pint with on a Friday night at the end of a long week – they can actually make you better at your job. 

A survey by Gallup found that close friendships at work can boost employee satisfaction by as much as 50%. The same study also found that people with a particularly good friend at work are seven times more likely to engage fully in their work.

Let that be an excuse for a post-work drink (or two).

Solo travel is one of the best ways to find true friendship. Check out our wanderlust destinations for inspiration: 

Hang out with sloths in the happiest place on earth

Costa Rica

Costa Rica, a country of waterfalls, wildlife and wonder – it’s no wonder it’s one of the happiest places on earth.

This 11-day adventure will take you into the heart of this beautiful Central American country as you kayak through rainforest, tube down rapids and stretch out in a hammock on a white-sandy beach.

It’s also home to some weird and wonderful wildlife – from Tapir to sloths, toucans to ocelots. Don’t forget your binoculars.

Check out this trip

Get away from it all in Thailand and Laos


You don’t need to be in Thailand for long to understand why it’s known as ‘land of the smiles’, and neighbouring Laos is equally as welcoming.

From food markets in bustling Bangkok to a leisurely two-day boat ride down the legendary Mekong river and a trek through the region’s lush jungle, this nine-day trip will take your breath away.

Want to know more?

Awesome natural wonders in Botswana

Zimbabwe and Botswana

From big waterfalls to the Big Five, Botswana is ready-and-waiting to blow your mind.

There are few things in life as jaw-droppingly amazing as seeing your first elephant in the wild, and on this nine-day tour you’ll get plenty of opportunities to get up-close to these gentle giants on safari trips across Botswana’s plains.

There’s also the small matter of a helicopter ride over the seventh wonder of the world, as this trip takes you over the border to Zimbabwe to bask in the wonder of the world’s longest waterfall, Victoria Falls.

Take me there

Images: Flash Pack, Unsplash

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