“If you had to make one life choice, right now, to set yourself on the path to future health and happiness, what would it be?” This is the opening question in a recent book called The Good Life by Robert Waldinger, MD and Marc Schulz, PhD. This book is based on the lengthiest study done on happiness and well-being. For 84 years, Harvard researchers followed 724 participants and their families. Harvard graduates made up 268 of the participants, and the rest came from the inner-city of Boston. They tracked these men and their families, hoping to find the key to positive well-being and lasting contentment.
So what was their conclusion?
“Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period” (page 10).
Over and over again, the data showed that friendship was the number-one key to a person’s happiness. As Christians, this shouldn’t really surprise us. On page 2 of the Bible, our Creator said, “It is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18). We were made in the image and likeness of our triune God, who has enjoyed an eternal friendship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We reflect our God when we foster those deep, loving connections with others.
In addition, the Bible’s wisdom literature enumerates why friendship is essential:
- A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity. (Proverbs 17:17)
- As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another. (Proverbs 27:17)
- Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken. (Ecclesiastes 4:12)
Unfortunately, recent studies show that friendship is at an all-time low. We could blame several environmental and cultural factors that continue to nudge us into isolation. But we all possess a selfish nature that magnifies all the challenges of bonding with another human being. Friendship is hard. It takes time, energy, and sacrifice. Eventually all companionship will experience misunderstandings, hurtful words, unkept promises, and self-centered decisions.
We need more than data to make the necessary sacrifices to foster friendship. We need a true friend to bust us out of our cycle of seclusion. You have that friend in Jesus, who said:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. (John 15:13-16)
Jesus made friendship’s greatest sacrifice; he laid down his life for you. He feeds that friendship by disclosing his plans and desires through his Word. When his complete devotion to you grips your heart, you will have the power to be committed sacrificially to those companions whom God has given you. You will have the resources to forgive your friends when they let you down. And you will have the wisdom to stick with your friends when times get tough.
Harvard’s study validates what the Scriptures have always said: we need each other. In fact, we were designed to love and be loved by our friends. And when we live according to those blueprints, we will experience a piece of paradise that awaits us. So with God’s help, foster deep friendships.