Thursday, August 25, 2011

That's what friends are for

Having too much fun? Never.
I love this picture. It says everything I feel about fun with my girlfriends...and guy friends, too, for that matter.

A few years back, this is me and the girls on what's now become the annual girlfriends getaway trip to Myrtle Beach. When my daughter saw I posted this photo on my Facebook wall she suggested that I take it down. I asked why.

Because you all look like you've been drinking a lot. 

Haha! That's too funny. We haven't even had a drink! We're happy! We're laughing! Yes, we're drunk...on happiness!

We did get a good shot, but
 I still like the one with us laughing best.
Did I leave the picture up? Absolutely. The picture highlights some great memories from a wonderful trip with good friends. Whenever I see it, I smile. And I'm not ashamed to show that I can be that silly. Tears of laughter are good for us all.

What were we doing? We were trying to take a picture of ourselves before we went out. We all took turns holding out our arms to try to capture the shot of the group. Somebody was always cut out. We each convinced the rest that we could do better. And the shots got worse and worse until we laughed ourselves silly.

And that's the kind of laughter that is just plain good for you. I always love when that happens. It can't be scheduled, but I'm always ready, willing, and able when the opportunity arises. It's fun to remember good times like these that we've stored up over all the years.

And why do we all like to revisit our "war stories", life experiences and fun with friends, things we did over the years that made us laugh or brought us closer together? Because these are the bonds we weave through life that make the memories to keep us all going. Isn't it the best to know there are groups of friends out there who care that you're on this planet, who look forward to time together, who will be there for you and each other through everything in life?

Catching up with college buddies.
All kinds of studies out there show results that friendships keep us healthy and help us live longer. Isolation hurts us and connections heal us. Social support and a sense of belonging to different groups of friends can especially enrich our lives and keep us stronger with a positive outlook.

We have different friendships on different levels that fill different needs we each have. And we connect and reconnect with these friends all throughout our lives. We have emotional ties with friends from grade school, high school, and college friends; friends from work; friends with whom we've raised our children together; friends from neighborhood communities, children's or our own activities, and shared vacations.

Even employers have also been paying attention to the studies showing that work friends play an important role in our lives. If you have a "best" friend at work, chances are greater that you're a more satisfied and productive employee, that you're more engaged with your job, so team building and cultivating work friendships are de rigueur. But the best friendships are not employer-induced. It's more when you click with someone, when it happens naturally and you both want to chat for hours, that you know you've found a gem of a relationship that deserves some time and polish.

So how much effort does all this friendship stuff take? As much as you want to put into it. But it seems that the more you're willing to invest, the more you'll reap. Sure, there are limits to the hours in our day, and you can't be as close with everyone at all times. It's normal that some bonds and friendships fall away, grow, and renew as we cycle through life.

But don't dismiss the opportunities to develop new, unexpected friendships, as well, to add some spice to your life. Studies caution that those who don't cultivate close friendships or who have trouble making or keeping connections should seriously make an effort to change those patterns for their own health and benefit. Yet some still hesitate to make commitments. Yes, as with all aspects of life, there are times where you may be hurt, but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages. So take chances. It's never a bad idea to be there for others. Someday you may need friends to be there for you.

Always fun when we get together.
To maintain a friendship, do we have to share all things in common with a mini-me of ourselves? Absolutely not. We all have different interests and different needs. It's okay for one friend to fulfill your need to chat about a hobby and another friend to share your love of travel or cooking or sports and yet another friend to be your go-with person for shopping or movie night.

I've found relationships are more rewarding when we don't expect one friend to fill all our needs or try ourselves to be all things to a friend. Most important is to have at least one connection, one thing in common, even if it's just a mutual love and respect for playing a role in each other's life, for being at the same place together at a point in time.

So I'll let you in on a secret. I got all sappy on the way home from work last night thinking about friends in my life. I felt that great wave of fortune come over me that I wish I could bottle. Lots of relationships over time came to mind and it was a pleasant journey. Maybe it's also the technology of Facebook that makes me more mindful of all these friendships.

In addition to all the face-to-face connections we're lucky to experience each day, we have to admit that Facebook enables us to interact in a different way with groups of friends from over the years and all walks of our life. Friends we probably wouldn't have had enough time to connect with. Online, we can engage as much or as little as we like, touching base daily or weekly, reconnecting, finding things you have in common with an old friend, seeing how someone from your childhood grew to be a wonderful adult, and sharing a glimpse of each other's everyday existence.

And it's so convenient to quickly catch up with a friend across the country or on the other side of the world with total ease and immediacy. People seem to either love social media networks or hate them, but I can't help but see the benefits and advantages to all of us, the opportunities to reconnect and strengthen relationships, the healthy support these online friendships can offer. These social networks add another dimension to the friendship spectrum. Ideally, they enhance, not replace, the face-to-face networks we're already a part of.

Remember, Dionne Warwick sang:

Keep smiling, keep shining
Knowing you can always count on me, for sure
That's what friends are for
In good times, in bad times
I'll be on your side forever more
That's what friends are for

But friends should never take advantage of each other or disrespect differences in philosophy, personality, or thought. I like what Elbert Hubbard said: "A friend is one who knows you and loves you just the same." I like the sound of that. It seems to be an important key to maintaining many friendships with many unique individuals. I don't want to change my friends. I want to love them and like them for who they are. It's healthier to accept and respect differences without trying to change each other. 

Met this friend on vacation in 2006
and we've been close
and vacationed together since.

Reconnecting with someone
from childhood is fun.
Who knew we both enjoy hiking?
So have you thought about how technology has affected or improved your opportunities for friendships?

How important are friends in your life? Do you have your standby group you hang with?

And do you meet with different groups of friends to reconnect through the year?

Are you able to make the time it takes to sustain old friendships and cultivate new relationships?

And if friendships haven't been a priority due to family commitments or work, is it something you want to explore and put some time into?

I'd love to hear what you're thinking or what works for you.

May your friendships thrive and keep you happy and healthy.

Until next time, yours in fun and friendship...Therese        

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