The last few months have challenged the way we engage with friends and highlighted the need for social support networks. Admittedly, at the start of lockdown there was some relief - space to breathe - a break from the hectic social schedule, voluntary jobs and social demands on evenings and weekends. Anyone with teenagers may have been thankful knowing that the pubs and clubs were closed and late night socialising had to be put on ice. However, any relief was quickly replaced by a longing for just "sharing space." Visiting friends and family was prohibited, hugs and physical greetings were shunned, chats with colleagues meant staring at screens, spontaneous meet-ups over coffee didn't happen and gone were casual conversations at the bus stop/office/gym/park etc. Stories of loneliness, fear and heartache have filled the news and quotes such as "The only time I've spoken this week was to Alexa" and "I used to hate nuisance calls from salesmen" have been heard too often.
This period has been a good reminder that humans are social beings who need relationships with other people. Social connections not only add pleasure and purpose, they promote our health and wellbeing in ways every bit as important as enough sleep, eating well and exercising. Many scientific studies confirm that people with a good network of supportive family and friends are happier, enjoy better health and live longer. A large Swedish study of people aged over 75 concluded that the risk of developing dementia was lowest in those with a variety of satisfying social connections. Sadly the converse is true and research from Harvard confirms that "loneliness kills. It's as powerful as smoking or alcoholism."
So what more incentive do we need to invest in our relationships and extend the metaphorical hand of friendship? The world needs more engaging friendships and individuals need the nourishment gained from knowing they belong and matter. It's worth remembering the wisdom in the proverb "the only way to have a good friend is to be one."