Is it really important to have friends?

Why friends are important - Friendships make the world wide and beautiful

When do we need friends more - when we are doing well or when we are doing badly? The Greek philosopher Aristotle asked himself that. The answer to that is simple: we always need it.

Friends make you happy and healthy

"Those who have no friends die earlier." This is how Lisa Wagner, personality psychologist at the University of Zurich, sums it up. "Studies show that the mortality without friends and without social ties is about the same as if you smoke 15 cigarettes a day - and even higher than with alcohol." Friendships are important for health and a long life.

Why? "You find, discover and develop in conversation with your friends," says theologian Joachim Negel, who has written a book on the cultural-historical dimension of friendship. «Who am I if nobody talks to me? Then I'm nothing. " The Jewish religious philosopher Martin Buber said it similarly: "In the you, the human becomes the I."

Colleagues, mates, soul mates

Aristotle's "Nicomachean Ethics" is one of the most important works on friendship. In it the philosopher thinks about the basics of life. He differentiates between three types of friendship: "The first is what we might call work colleagues today," says theologian Joachim Negel.

“Aristotle calls them that amicitia utilis, the useful friendship. " This is a group of people with whom you have a beer or go hiking on the weekend. It serves a clear goal: to be successful in your job.

The second type Aristotle calls this amicitia delectabilis: «These are friendships that you want to have fun with. You go to the bowling club or the sports club together. " In contrast to your professional colleagues, you choose these friends in a targeted manner.

The third category is that amicitia honesti, the sincere friendship: «It is the friendship of excellent people. You sound together in a very deep way, ”says Negel. «The world will be wide and beautiful. These are people to whom you trust your most intimate things. "

It's the people we call best friends. While one can have innumerable friendships of the other, few have such close friendships. "The emotional closeness is very pronounced, along with a mutual understanding," explains personality psychologist Lisa Wagner. One confides in these friends in emergencies.

How do friendships come about?

How do we find a boyfriend, a girlfriend? "Friendship is deliberately chosen by both of them," says psychologist Wagner. "Only if both call each other friends is it a friendship."

How many friends a person needs is individual. However, the number is not decisive: “In large meta-analyzes you can see that it is crucial to have a boyfriend at all. This lowers the risk of developing depression, for example. "

This has been proven in studies: “Of course you can also get depression if you have a lot of very good friends. But friends can cushion the risk to a certain extent because they offer support in difficult moments in life. "

Culture influences friendship

How a friendship is lived is tied to the cultural context, says theologian Joachim Negel. This is illustrated by this example from the Arab region: friendships among men are lived differently there than in the West.

"There is a disturbing picture of the then American President George W. Bush walking with King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia holding hands in the garden of the White House." While this is an everyday gesture in Saudi Arabia, it is rather uncommon in the West among heterosexual men.

Friendship is what defines people

The earliest evidence of friendship can be found in the Epic of Gilgamesh, an enigmatic text from ancient Babylonian times. It describes the friendship between Gilgamesh, king of Uruk, and Enkidu, a mythical figure.

«Gilgamesh is a founder of the state, a kind of giant with tremendous powers. But he is lonely and then he finds Enkidu », says theologian Joachim Negel. Enkidu makes Gilgamesh a human being in the first place. "Because in conversation with Enkidu Gilgamesh discovers himself for who he is."

Even in a love relationship, you recognize yourself. What's the difference? That is actually difficult to determine, explains psychologist Lisa Wagner. “If you look in the textbooks, friendship is usually delimited by the absence of sexual interaction. But only mostly. " Because there are also friendships in which sexuality occurs.

Another difference is the exclusivity: friendships are usually several, love relationships usually one. "Ultimately, there is a lot of overlap in terms of exchange, closeness and perhaps the world of emotions: You can also feel similar feelings of love in friends."

Male and female friendships

The sexes approach friendships differently - this is also confirmed by research: “Many studies have examined what expectations men and women have of friendships. There are actually differences, ”says the psychologist.

Women expected greater emotional closeness. Men want to do activities together. So in keeping with the cliché? «That is only a statement about the mean value. Of course there are male friendships that are very close and intimate and female friendships that are based on joint ventures. "

It becomes difficult when in a friendship both feel the same way. For example, when you become friends with someone of the opposite sex and you are both straight. “In opposite-sex friendships, men are actually more likely than women to expect that perhaps more will result from it. Whether it will turn into a romantic relationship after all. That has been scientifically proven. "

A friend for every stage of life?

We are born with the gift of friendship. "From the age of two to three, children show certain preferences when playing with other children," says Lisa Wagner from the University of Zurich. "Studies show that they learn a lot from their peers with whom they identify particularly well." They were more likely to imitate things from friends than from other peers.

In adolescence, friends took over from parents as important conversation partners. At the same time, young people are influenced by their friends - both positively and negatively. Many friendships were formed in school that would continue into adulthood.

And: friendships serve as a training ground. "In them you train important skills early on that you will need later in romantic relationships," explains Lisa Wagner.

Whether you are a toddler, teenager or adult, every generation has to cultivate friendships. Especially in the phase of a new love or starting a family, some neglect friendships. "If both friends are not in the same phase of development, it can be painful," says Lisa Wagner. "In order to maintain a friendship, you have to design everyday life in such a way that there is room for it."

Friendships can diverge because of such differences in life. Unlike a love relationship, friendships usually end gradually, not with a clear separation.

Nevertheless, there are also friendships that end through a conflict: "Then you can go through very similar emotional processes as when a romantic relationship comes to an end." You may feel anger and sadness.

Friendship is more important than status

Age does not play a role in friendship. It works across generations. Social position is also not decisive. The example of the deep friendship between the famous Jewish writer and diplomatic wife Rahel Varnhagen and the partner Pauline Wiesel testifies to this.

The two women lived during German Romanticism, an era that raised friendships to an attitude towards life. “Rahel Varnhagen was exceptionally well educated,” says theologian Joachim Negel.

Book reference

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Joachim Negel: «Friendship. On the diversity and depth of a way of life ». Herder, 2020.

«Pauline Wiesel was, to put it angrily, a cocotte who lived extraordinarily freely, and in that the exact opposite of Rahel Varnhagen. But the two found each other in their differences, because each found what was missing in the other. "

That too is friendship: finding the other half of your soul.