This month I hosted a 5-day gathering at my home with my three closest high school friends (Cass Tech, Detroit, MI). We’ve been getting together once a year at one of our homes for the last few years. We live in 4 different cities, 2 different countries. Here we are in the photo, posed in front of Orchard House, the home of Louisa May Alcott, in Concord MA, on a gorgeous New England Fall day.
Having this time with my old friends is a great treasure. I experience with them a level of unconditional acceptance and being deeply known that I don’t really have with my current friends to the same extent. We knew each other when we were 15, we knew each others’ parents, and we can see the 15-year-olds in the women we’ve become and appreciate how that 15-year-old is (and isn’t) still alive in the current version of the person. There is a lot of laughing when we get together — a lot of lightness and fun like we used to have together in high school days. We did that well back then, and it comes back when we get together. We don’t take it for granted. After everyone left, one of them wrote, “Unconditional love and support. It’s . . . mystical, spiritual, and yummy.” And this from someone who’s not typically new-agey in her expression or beliefs.
As this blog post from Scientific American notes, research shows that “connecting with friends can lessen stress” in a person’s life. In fact, “social connection doesn’t just help us survive health problems: the lack of it causes them.”
Research documented by the Mayo Clinic corroborates this finding. “Having close friends and family has far-reaching benefits for your health. . . . A strong social support network can be critical to help you through the stress of tough times, whether you’ve had a bad day at work or a year filled with loss or chronic illness. Since your supportive family, friends, and co-workers are such an important part of your life, it’s never too soon to cultivate these important relationships.”
This week I happened to see some amazing footage of reunions of cross-species old friends, each one moving and remarkable. In this one a man who raised a gorilla he later released into the West African wild goes to see him after 5 years. If you’re hungry for more of this, check out this reunion of a lion with the couple who raised him as a cub; their re-connection after 1 year is amazing to witness. And finally, here’s one of a different lion and the woman who rescued him when he was injured, abandoned, and dying, and nursed him back to health.
The third video ends with this advice: “True friendships last a lifetime. Get in touch with someone. You’ll be glad you did.”
I want to second that recommendation and suggest that seeing any of your friends, old or new, can re-charge your personal batteries in profound ways. Of course this is not NEWS to to any of us — it’s something we know intuitively, and there’s lots of research that supports it. But I’ve seen that spending time with friends is one of the first things that people jettison when they’re stressed by a relentless schedule. And yet even small amounts of time with a friend can nourish and hydrate a person very deeply. Friends give you a lot of bang for your buck.
A recent Forbes article reports that connection to friends might even save your life.