We all love our best friends for plenty of reasons, like their constant support or their ability to make us laugh on command. But it turns out, they're helping us even more than we know.
According to a new study, nurturing strong, platonic relationships will help you have greater resilience when times get tough.
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The study, conducted by Dr. Rebecca Graber at the University of Leeds in the U.K., found 75 men and women through social media, websites, and organizations that support socially isolated people and asked them about their psychological resilience, quality of friendships, self-esteem, and coping behaviors. A year later, Graber and her team asked the group the same questions and analyzed the results.
"The greater the quality of the participants' best friendship, the more resilient they were one year on," Graber told Real Simple.
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While these findings don't prove that resilient people are more likely to develop stronger friendships, the reverse definitely holds true: having strong relationships can, in fact, lead to firmer mental resilience later on.
The "best friends effect" proved just as powerful from a young age. When Graber previously tested the link among children, she found that individuals who claimed to have a "best friend" had better coping methods.
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With her most recent finding among adults, Graber hopes to influence the way society thinks about friendships and encourage the formation of strong bonds.
"The research suggests that friendships do help us get through difficult times," Graber said. "That is something many of us—including myself—believe intuitively, but it is not reflected in many aspects of culture nor in how we structure society and economic systems in the Western world."
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Her findings also support a commonly held belief about friendships: they're about quality, not quantity.
"My analysis shows that just one good quality friendship can make a difference to how you get through difficult times," she said. "We are not all extroverts, and we don't need to be. I would encourage people to make time to value and prioritize their friendships—especially when life gets hard."
Even among people whose best friend changed over the course of the year, their mental resilience still proved stronger than those lacking such durable bonds.
"I think this raises important questions for psychologists about whether we overemphasize friendship stability," Graber said. "We tend to view friendships as these unchanging relationships, when really it is fairly common to have ebbs and flows."
All in all, this news is just another reason why we shouldn't take out best friends for granted.
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