Friends: Who needs them?

Posted on November 20, 2019 at 6:00 am

By Abra Cole

Friends. We all have them, but do we need them?

The topic came up when my 3-year-old and I were reading Ryan T. Higgins’ book We Don’t Eat Our Classmates! recently.

We got to talking about his friends at daycare. Of course, it’s the norm to refer to his entire classroom as his “friends,” but are they really?

I asked if he has a best friend, and he quickly named a couple kids who I’d heard him talk about before. We talked about how they had become friends, and the types of things they do together. It’s easy to make friends when you’re 3 years old (as long as you don’t eat them!).

It’s also pretty easy to make friends when you’re in elementary school and middle school, and even high school and college (okay, okay, it’s not as easy, perhaps).

In these cases, you’re in a place with the same people for the entire day, week, school year, or even your whole school career. It easy to find things to connect over. Maybe you only got to know your friends because you were initially forced to do a group project, and through the process, you learned enough about each other that you liked so they turned into real friends, outside of the group projects.

How about new friendships in adulthood?

I’ve found that it’s not easy. But why not? A job does not seem unlike school. In many ways, they seem very similar. You sit next to the same people most days. You work on projects together, sometimes anyway. You may even eat lunch in the break room together and chat about life.

So why is it so hard to make the same types of connections as adults that came so easily as kids? Yes, we have other responsibilities and families and more stress and less energy. Yet despite all that, we do need people we call friends. We’re social creatures after all.

Many people have friendships that they’ve maintained since childhood, but friendships created in adulthood can still be elusive.

Nicholas Kristof, an opinion columnist for The New York Times, wrote about loneliness earlier this month, in his article “Let’s Wage a War on Loneliness.” He writes about the deadly epidemic of loneliness and what they are doing about it in the United Kingdom.

Researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, PhD, professor at Brigham Young University, along with fellow colleagues found that social isolation is more hazardous to one’s health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day or being obese. They found that “loneliness increases inflammation, heart disease, dementia, and death rates.” Loneliness can also increase feelings of depression, anxiety, and shame.

So, it physically hurts to be lonely.

Merriam-Webster’s definition of lonely (adjective) is as follows:

1a: being without company: LONE
1b: cut off from others: SOLITARY

2: not frequented by human beings: DESOLATE

3: sad from being alone: LONESOME

4: producing a feeling of bleakness or desolation

I imagine that each of us have all experienced loneliness in our lives and one point or another. So how can we combat loneliness, its stigma, and just help each other?

For many, this time of year of communal and family holidays can be especially difficult.

They’re stressful on many levels. Vitamin D may be lacking in your system due to less sunlight exposure. With lessened contact with the great outdoors, many people may be adversely affected this time of year. These things only exacerbate feelings of loneliness and isolation.

There are many things a person suffering from loneliness can do. Recognizing, acknowledging, and then taking steps to reduce feelings of loneliness can be the first and most difficult step.

I propose starting small. Start with doing activities you enjoy and feel most comfortable doing. Who knows where it can lead?

Here are some ideas.

REACH OUT

Reach out and speak to someone you know. Call that friend you haven’t spoken with in years. Chances are good they have felt lonely too.

VOLUNTEER

Studies show that engaging in any type of volunteer activity can boost one’s self-worth exponentially as well as increased feelings of community engagement.

There are many places in Spokane where your volunteer efforts would make a difference. Think of something that you are passionate about and start there.

Do you enjoy spending time with babies or children? Volunteer to be a baby holder in the NICU.

Do you support the arts? Do you like spending time outdoors? With kids? With pets? Helping those in need?

When you choose a volunteer opportunity that matches your personal passions, you will be more likely to find others who share other interests with you. And this may develop into a friendship.

GET OUTDOORS

Simply spending time outdoors is a good way to give yourself a much needed psychological boost.

Time spent in nature provides a restorative effect. Look online to see if there are any hiking groups you can join or a community garden.

Consider getting a group of work colleagues together for an outing!

TAKE A CLASS

Look for activities and classes for your interests that are offered in your area for free. Also, join a group, or three, that shares your interests. (Hint: your local library is a great place to look for activities, classes, and groups!)

Here at the library, we help people connect in all sorts of ways. I invite you to come to the library and see what upcoming library programs might interest you.

Of course you should pick up a copy of the latest Engage, our programs and events guide. And you can also stop by the desk and ask library staff if they know of any groups who meet regularly at the library, like Book Club, knitting club, or whatever your interests are.

At our library programs and classes, you might learn a new skill, find a new favorite author, or make a friend. Maybe you’ll find all three!

UPCOMING LIBRARY EVENTS

The Hanford Site
Exhibit
NORTH SPOKANE
November 1–30, during open hours

3D Printing Drop-in Hours
Technology & art
SPOKANE VALLEY
Wednesdays, 3:30–5:30pm

Hacking Democracy: What Social Media Is Doing to US Politics
Lecture
SPOKANE VALLEY
Thursday, Nov 21, 7pm

Cheney Book Club: The Secret Garden
CHENEY
Tuesday, Nov 26, 6:30pm

Small Business Saturday
Shop Local activity & prizes
ARGONNE (MILLWOOD), CHENEY, DEER PARK, MEDICAL LAKE
Saturday, Nov 30, 10am–5pm

Civic Lab: Let’s Talk about Managing Stress, Fighting Depression, & Preventing Suicide
Interactive public exhibit
NORTH SPOKANE
December 1–31, during open hours

Comparison Shopping
Consumer education class
NORTH SPOKANE
Thursday, Dec 5, 6:30pm

Millwood Tree Lighting & Gingerbread Build
Community event
MILLWOOD MASONIC CENTER
Friday, Dec 6, 6:30pm

Pottery: Wheel Throwing with Darryl Nitta
Live Art Demonstration
SPOKANE VALLEY
Saturday, Dec 7, 2pm

Medical Lake Monday Evening
Community activity
MEDICAL LAKE
Monday, Dec 9, 5:30–7pm

Airway Heights Book Club: Christmas on the Island
AIRWAY HEIGHTS
Tuesday, Dec 10, 6:30pm

Moran Prairie Book Club: The Broken Road
MORAN PRAIRIE
Thursday, Dec 12, 2pm

Spokane Valley Book Club: A Dog’s Purpose
SPOKANE VALLEY
Wednesday, Dec 18, 2pm

Cheeky Cross-Stitch (registration required)
DIY & crafts
NORTH SPOKANE
Thursday, Dec 19, 6pm

And if none of these library events interest you, stop by the library anyway. We can discuss your interests and help you find a book, magazine, music CD, or DVD to check out!

I hope to see you at the library soon.

Abra Cole

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