International Day of Friendship
In 2011, The United Nations declared July 30 the International Day of Friendship. An idea with roots extending back as early as 1919, this action was intended as an on-going strategy towards promoting a culture of peace. By encouraging people around the world to embrace developing friendships between peoples, countries, cultures, and individuals, we are given an opportunity to promote the shared spirit of human solidarity. Coming together as friends can help us learn to respect cultural diversity and build bridges between communities.
This year it is particularly important to embrace and recognize the importance of friendship. Between on-going global tension, antiracism protests, and the coronavirus pandemic, many of us feel isolated from our friends and family. However, isolation is more than the people we choose to surround ourselves by. It’s being in public, surrounded by strangers, that helps us feel connected as well. With fewer people leaving their homes, the emptiness of places normally filled can hit us harder than we realize. But connection is important, both in our intimate relationships and simply feeling as if we’re part of a community.
Friendship And The Brain
Research shows friendship has profound benefits on our brain. Individuals who have established social networks typically have lower stress levels, are in better physical health and experience stronger cognitive health throughout their lives. In fact, loneliness is more harmful to us than lack of exercise and can be worse for our overall health than obesity.
We use our whole brain when it comes to nurturing relationships. It involves thinking, feeling, and sensing, and gives our brain the stimulation necessary to create new neurons and pathways. This stimulation strengthens our brain, building more cognitive resistance as we age.
Friendship also builds empathy, helping us view the world from perspectives different from our own. This is actually a key component to friendship: the ability to empathize with each other. The more we practice empathy, the more it extends to the world around us. Individuals with larger social networks tend to open up more to those around them, which allows for conversation that leads to understanding. Our network also helps us with emotional processing. We feel safe to express sadness, happiness, and even anger with our friends, allowing us to process these emotions through support and nurturing.
One of the most important things friendship brings is laughter and happiness. When we focus on the well-being of others, especially those we care about, studies show our own satisfaction regarding life improves. Happiness is generally attributed to the release of dopamine in our brain, but it’s also part of learning, memory, and motor function.
Even though we may not be able to see our friends in person, we can still find creative ways to reach out and celebrate our friendship. Hop on a group video call or send a thoughtful note either electronically or through regular mail. Fostering connection is important year-round, but for International Day of Friendship, let’s all be sure to let our friends know how important they are to us.