I often quote the research from BYU that revealed just how important friendships are to our health. The sentiment of the research didn't surprise me at all, but what they compared it to sure did! After compiling extensive relational studies, researchers revealed that if you feel disconnected-- it is worse for your health than smoking 15 cigarettes a day, twice as harmful as being obese, and as damaging as being an alcoholic. What shocks me most is how little training and teaching we get, outside of our own experience, in this ever-important life area of relationships. Compare how much attention your teachers and leaders have given to the three things listed as less significant than your relationships: obesity, drinking and smoking. Seriously! We have laws against smoking and drinking, yet it's never been illegal to be isolated! We have billboards and commercials showing the effect of smoke on our lungs and the aftermath of driving while buzzed, but I've never seen one showing the effects of loneliness. Even if your nutrition and physical education classes in school left a lot to be desired, at least they had them. I never took a class on healthy relationships.
In an area that is touted to be most significant to our health, happiness, and longevity-- we just hope healthy relationships comes naturally. Unfortunately, with 85% of us admitting to having toxic friends, I'm not blown away by how well we've taught ourselves.
6 Books that Teach Healthy Friendships
Here are six books I think could help us start being more intentional in our healthy friendship education:
- Consequential Strangers, by Melinda Blau and Karen Fingerman, Ph.D. As the tagline suggests, "The Power of People who Don't Seem to Matter But Really Do," you may not feel inspired to buy this book because you may not realize just how significant your connections through out the day can be in your life. However, this book is hugely revealing and has much to teach us about our wider networks. For those of you familiar with my 5 Circles of Connectedness, this book is all about just how important the left-side of our continuum can be.
- A Return to Love, by Marianne Williamson. The middle third of this book is one of the most impressive visions of healthy relationships on the market, not just friendships. While her field is spiritual growth, her case is that all our personal growth happens in our relationships. She showcases the importance of every interaction we have, from what seems inconsequential to us all the way to the people with whom we have lifetime assignments. Her call to us to give love rather than project fear is inspiring. To show up with others on a soul level rather than ego level would change the world.
- The Power of Female Friendship: How Your Circle of Friends Shapes Your Life, by Paul Dobransky, M.D. This book goes way past warm-and-fuzzy to give you really fabulous scientific charts, graphs, and formulas. His definition of friendship ("Friendship is consistent, mutual, shared positive emotion") is still one I use in my teaching-- helping women know the 4 things that must be present in a healthy friendship. He breaks up friendship in some of the most thought-provoking ways teaching psychology, boundaries, emotional health, and brain function.
- Best Friends Forever, by Irene Levine Ph.D. This tagline will sell the book: "Surviving a Breakup with Your Best Friend." She's quick to remind you that it's an unhealthy myth to believe that your friendships should last forever, with most of us staying in touch with only 1 out 12 of our friends. She's also quick to sympathize with why it can, ironically, sometimes be harder and more painful to end friendships than it is to end our romantic loves. Her guide will help you thoughtfully process which friendships to let go, how to do it, and how to heal.
- The Friendship Fix, by Andrea Bonior, Ph.D. This recent book is a fast and fun read as it aims to help women in their "choosing, loosing, and keeping up" with their friends. I'd recommend this book especially to those in their 20's and 30's still trying to figure out how to do friendship as adults beyond college. Her style is witty and helpful in identifying what kind of friend you are, how to transition friendships through the marriages and pregnancies, and how to think through friendships with exes, family members, and work colleagues.
- Find Your Strongest Life, by Marcus Buckingham. This book isn't about friendship per say, but is about how women can live successfully and happily by leaning into your strongest role (9 options, we all have 1-2 primarily). I put this book on the list for those of you who already have a fulfilling circle of friends as I think this is a fun way to get to know each other better. The five-minute online test is free, but unpacking the results and learning about how you each give differently in the friendship is priceless. This is a great book to go through with a group of girlfriends as you all commit to cheering for each other as you seek to live your strongest life.
I'm holding spot #7 for a book that is to be released in January (you can pre-order) titled "MWF Seeking BFF" where the author, Rachel Bertsche writes about her year of weekly friend-dating as she went from friendless in Chicago to establishing a local circle of friends. This will be an inspiring read for most of you who know what it's like to need to make new friends but feel the fear and insecurity of actually starting friendships from scratch.
And then spot # 8? Well maybe I should write one? :)
So there you have it. Gold stars for those of you who actually decide to read one of these! I really want to remind you that to simply sit back and hope for more friends isn't going to do it. Much like the fact that you have to get off the couch to get healthy, we're truly going to have to learn to keep making and fostering healthy friendships throughout our lives.
To reading that can change your life....