Who needs Christmas cards?

LatestMental HealthThought-provoking

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Naomi Woodcock urges us to use the festivities to reach out to friends old and new.

This year has been an extraordinary one. Not in the way that you might describe a solar eclipse, or the birth of a child. But in the way you might describe living during a global pandemic, watching the world change forever.

We may have found ourselves uttering new phrases like ‘corona-coaster’, ‘zoom-fatigue’, ‘blursday’ or the less friendly ‘covidiot’. But we may not have expected to say how much we deeply miss seeing our friends, who may only live a few streets away.

Friends are a powerful force in our lives. They are great for our health and emotional wellbeing, and come in all shapes and sizes, from acquaintances on social media to friends who feel like family.

Robin Dunbar at Oxford University has found that people can generally maintain around 150 social connections of varying degrees of closeness:

five very close friends, 10 close friends, 35 friends, and 100 acquaintances.

We’ve found a few pretty good reasons why these close friendships are so great…

In Kate Leaver’s book The Friendship Cure, she explains that friends provide physical, moral, social, and emotional support when we need it. Friends act like a circle of altruism, helping protect us from suffering or from being harmed by others, according to The Greater Good Science Center.

Friends can play a starring role in some of our favourite memories too. They bring joy, laughter, and a contagious happiness into our lives. As a friend you get to share your passions and experiences with someone who really cares about you. Whether you’re belly laughing with a group of your favourite people, or sitting quietly enjoying each other’s company, friends are a gift.

Good friends can help you not to feel lonely and keep you healthy! Leaver explains that loneliness can put us at a greater risk of clinical dementia, heart attack, stroke, and death – more so than smoking 15 cigarettes a day! Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections.

Good friends can help keep stress at bay, even for children! 

When was the last time you felt worried, stressed or upset about something? Hopefully you were able to speak with a friend and talk through your emotions.

A good friend listens and can help you work out a way forward when it’s not clear. Friends can nip stress in the bud before it overwhelms you.

Right now you may be prevented from physically hanging out. But just knowing that you share a strong connection with someone can help you feel less alone. 

So what about a Christmas resolution? Who could you reach out to in this season? Someone you used to be close to before other commitments or distance became greater?

But don’t just reach out for your own good, reach out for your friends’ good. In fact, that’s the very nature of friendship: to be more concerned about them than about yourself. 

And this could lead you to ask yourself what virtues or qualities you need to grow in to be a better friend to your friends: generosity, of course, but perhaps patience too, or empathy, or less obvious qualities like flexibility, resilience or tolerance. Friends needn’t, and probably shouldn’t, be carbon-copies of ourselves.

For the older generation Christmas cards served this purpose – staying in touch across the miles as the wording often said.  Today we have different – perhaps more immediate ways of doing the same thing.

So why not sit down now and make a list of five people you could message today with a perhaps surprising note just to say thanks for being there for you, or perhaps sharing some positive thought you have had about them over the past year.

Five Christmas presents that will be more personal than any tech gadget, branded T-shirt or mass-produced card.  

And then send them – it doesn’t matter how … email, SMS, DM or even snail mail.

It will make Christmas that bit sweeter for the recipient, and guess what?  It will make Christmas that bit sweeter for you too!

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