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Dr. Willie Ong (Internist and Cardiologist)

Did you know that talking for an hour with a close friend is as effective as taking a pain reliever in treating headaches? Yes, it’s true.

In fact, a recent study by Brigham Young University professors, Julianne Holt-Lunstad and Timothy Smith, has shown that having a larger social network of friends, family and colleagues can increase your chances of being alive by as much as 50 percent!

The researchers analyzed 148 studies with around 300,000 subjects. They looked at the person’s social relationships and their chances for survival at the end of the study.

The study also concluded that people with very few social interactions are at high risk for loneliness, illness and death. In fact, the researchers have concluded that “lack of friends” ranks close to other risk factors for diseases, such as cigarette smoking, alcoholism, and obesity.

Professor Holt-Lunstad has even calculated that having few social connections is as bad as (1) smoking 15 cigarettes a day, (2) being a heavy alcoholic, (3) twice as harmful as being overweight, and (4) more harmful than not exercising.

Professor Holt-Lunstad explains the health benefits of having good relationships. These people have lower blood pressure, better immune system and less of the harmful inflammatory processes.

According to Professor Smith, “Relationships provide a level of protection across all ages…That constant interaction is not only beneficial psychologically but directly to our physical health.”

It appears that medical science is just finding out what friends are really for – to give you happiness and long life. Moreover, another scientific study has shown that support from friends can reduce one’s stress level by as much as 90 percent.

In as much as our dear friends help us to live longer, so too can we become a good friend for others. Here are ten ways to be a good friend:

  1. Be there when your friend needs you. We all have good times and low times. Support and cheer up your friend. Try to put a positive spin on life’s challenges, such as when a daughter is getting married or if they have problems with their in-laws. Even if you have nothing to say, your quiet presence will lessen their burdens and bring some happiness.
  2. Don’t abuse your friend. Some friends are naturally giving and charitable, but don’t abuse their kindness. Don’t keep on asking for favors, especially for little things you can do yourself. Relationship experts say that we all keep a “friend scorecard.” From time to time, make sure that you are giving as much to your friend as you are receiving.
  3. Keep in touch and respond quickly. For a close friend, they may get hurt if you ignore their calls. When you have some quiet time and you remember a friend, there’s nothing wrong with texting them and just saying “hi.”
  4. Don’t spread bad news about a friend. One sure way for a relationship to turn sour is by spreading negative information about a friend. It doesn’t matter if the gossip is true or not. Why not spread good news about your friend instead? The best form of admiration for your friend is when they hear that you have said a good word about them from a third party. That’s the time they’ll realize that you really are a true friend, because you have spoken kindly about them behind their backs.
  5. Be happy for your friend and for other people, too. I know that there’s a lot of competition going on everywhere. However, instead of getting jealous about with person’s success, why not just be happy for them? I’m sure God has a way of balancing out all the good and bad events that happen to people. If we can help another person become more successful (even if we don’t get the credit), then at least we know in our heart that we have done the right thing.
  6. Respect your friend’s privacy. There are some things that even a friend is not ready to discuss with you. Give them the space they need. There is a right time and a right place for everything. There are close and not-so-close times even with a friend.
  7. Be a good listener. There are some people who simply monopolize the conversation and keep on talking about themselves. Make your conversation a two-way street. Ask your friend what they are doing and then think of concrete ways to help them. It may not be a huge assistance but at least you gave them an effort.
  8. Give advice when you feel it’s needed. There are times when your friend may be doing something that may be considered dangerous or illegal. Although you should not judge your friend, you can offer some friendly advice. You could say, “Yes, you can do it that way, but we just have to be careful about the possible consequences. There could a better way to reach your goal.”
  9. Share your blessings. It could be a piece of pastry, a gift item or a new book that you know your friend will love. It may cost you but just imagine the look of happiness in your friend’s face when he or she sees your unexpected gift.
  10. Pray for your friend. Renowned author and positive thinker, Dr. Norman Vincent Peale, writes that we should start visualizing good things happening to our friends. Let’s look at them at their best. Let’s believe that they can achieve their dreams and we will be here to support them. Pray for your friends, and other people too, and the blessings will rebound back to you.

So many tributes and accolades have been ascribed to a loyal friend. Friends help us when we are down. Friends give greater meaning and purpose to our lives. Why not look around you and start making some friends today?

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