Relationship Matters: The Power of Friends

I recently came across a study by Evite that discovered the average American has not made a new friend in the past five years. That seems impossible to believe! But then I looked in the mirror and I thought about the past five years in my life. If you take away the people that I meet through work and if I ignore the acquaintances that I make at church, in my neighborhood and in my office building, I've made a lot fewer new and true friends in the past five years than I'd like to admit.

Most of us know that developing strong friendships is key to a healthy and fulfilling life. We know that we are at our best when we are known, loved and connected to others. Several years ago, on January 1, I was reflecting on the past year and had a clear revelation: I was disconnected from other men and was walking my life alone. I sent a simple text to three guys that I knew at various levels and told them that I realized I needed to spend weekly time with other men and asked if they would be interested in meeting for eight weeks and then we would evaluate if this was worth continuing. These men didn’t know each other and none of us were close friends. To my surprise, all three men responded within an hour saying they were in. We’ve been meeting regularly ever since then and when we are together it’s one of the highlights of my week.

Connection with friends - where you are really known - is powerful. It’s more than powerful, it can be healthy for us and it can extend our lives. Literally. John Ortberg shares a great illustration about the power of friendships in his book, Everybody’s Normal Till You Get to Know Them. He writes,

“Being in meaningful relationships in community is life giving to human beings. It is life giving to you in even the most literal sense. One of the most famous research projects that’s ever been done on relationships is called the Alameda County Study. It was headed by a Harvard social scientist, and it took place over a nine-year period. They tracked the lives of seven thousand people—residents of Alameda County in California.


They found that the most isolated people were three times more likely to die than the most relationally connected people. These are very interesting findings. They discovered that people who had bad health habits—smoking, poor eating patterns, obesity, alcohol use and so on, but strong relational connections, lived significantly longer than people who had great health habits, but were isolated.

In other words, they found that it’s better to eat Twinkies with good friends than to eat broccoli alone. This is scientifically established now and written up. There’s another study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. This is the Journal of the AMA. They took 276 volunteers and infected them all with a virus that produces the common cold.

In this study—again, published in the Journal of the AMA—they found that people with stronger emotional connections—deeper relationships—did four times better fighting off illness than those who were more isolated. Those with stronger relational connections were less susceptible to colds. They shed less virus and they produced significantly less mucous than relationally unconnected subjects.

I am not making this up. This is in the study. It is literally true. Unfriendly people are snottier than friendly people—literally true.”

Deep friendships are powerful. If you’re not experiencing that right now, reach out. Text someone. Take a risk. And then get together and enjoy a box of Twinkies. It’s good for you!