How Friends Keeps Us Young at Heart
Aging Matters

Staying socially active enriches our lives, and creating intergenerational friends keeps us young at heart and mind. But, how does an older person create a mutually beneficial relationship with someone a decade or so younger without making them feel like they're being groomed to be the absent child?

I've always had older and younger friends. I've been lucky that way and now that I'm older, and have no children, I don't worry that a younger friend will ever feel like I treat her or expect her to take the role of my (absent) child, nor would I want to be her surrogate mom. On the other hand, I would never treat an older friend as my mother/father or aunt/uncle. The trick is not to make defensive jokes or remarks about how old I am nor do I force my wisdom and experience on them. I see each person (older or younger) as whole and complete.

Most of us make friends with people because we like them. We have interests or experiences in common. They make us laugh. They make us feel special. And we should do the same for them. There's always room for more friends in our lives. So why allow a random factor like an age to stand in the way?

And most understand that having friends is important, but they have no idea how important it really is. Scientists are starting to discover that having friends who care about us is really a vital part of living. And it's a very good predictor of good health, success, and happiness.

Why Friends Matter

A study by Gallup showed if you hang around people having a nutritious and healthy mindset, you are more than five times as likely to have a very healthy diet yourself.

  • Scientists have found that being lonely is more dangerous than air pollution, obesity, or excessive drinking.
  • Individuals who are not lonely have as many problems as lonely people. But when you're lonely, the problems faced stress you more and for a longer time. People with active social groups are able to move past stress faster. It's believed that their friends make that possible.
  • When an individual stresses, their friends remind them of their value, giving the person the ability to quickly move out of feeling negative.
  • Friendship is the leading factor of happiness.
  • We learn to make friends accidentally. No one, even our parents, teach us how to do it.

Friendships can't be looked at as either black or white; either we are best friends forever, or not at all. Holding a hard and fast rule about friendships will hurt you. Try to focus on ranges of friendships from acquaintances, to very casual, to very close. Having a broad and interesting social circle is key to happiness. With casual friends, your investment of time and energy is just smaller, and you share less intimate information.

Carol Marak, aging advocate and editor at Seniorcare.com. She's earned a Certificate in the Fundamentals of Gerontology from UC Davis, School of Gerontology.



Part of the Aging Matters Weekly Syndicated Column

Aging Matters is a weekly column tackling everyday challenges that our growing elderly population and their loved ones face. It is also published in a variety of syndication partners including newspapers all over the country.

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