“Friendfluence” Explains Why Friends are Essential to Mental Health and Human Survival

A group of friends on a stoop. Labor Day, 1983 by Anthony Catalano/Flickr.

A group of friends on a stoop. Labor Day, 1983 by Anthony Catalano/Flickr.

I have to tell you, reading “Friendfluence” is just about the happiest experience that I ever had while reading a nonfiction book, especially on a psychology related topic.  The topic of friends is something that cheers me up.  As a person who has spent most of her life as a single…my daughter and I worked it out, and I have been in an exclusive romantic relationship for 18% of my total life…friends are enormously important to me.  Sure, I am close to my extended family too, but you know there is a difference.   

Whenever I am going through a struggle in my life, the fact that I have so many friends, both near and far, who are such wonderful people themselves reassures me that I must not be too messed up.  I might be kidding myself, but I know I’m not kidding all of these other people.  And I do like my friends kind, but also smart and direct.   

The idea that we metaphorically bounce our personalities and actions off of our friends as a self test is one of the central ideas of this book.  According to author Carlin Flora, we have a tendency to form friendships with people who are similar to us, so if we have good groups of friends, we have a good vetting process to see “how we are doing”.  Now that I think about it, it seems to me that too often, the focus is on the negative aspects of this process, i.e. the idea of “keeping up with the Joneses”.  And sure, I know people who do that…who feel that they have to run out and get something or do something just because someone else does.  But we don’t talk much about the other side of it: how we get helpful information about different things from each other.   

The people I know who seems to struggle the most do so, it seems, because they don’t have many friends and they don’t listen enough to the ones they do have.   

I know I have a habit of mentally collecting information from my friends (and family too) to file away for when I need it or share with someone else who might find it useful. 

So if you are like me and have a varied, well-functioning group of friends, you might be wondering why you need to read this book.  And maybe you don’t.  I personally wanted to read this book and am glad I did so I could ruminate on all the benefits bring to my life, which as I mentioned, made me happy. 

But even if you have a good group of friends, this book is important to read because it will help you understand and remember why it is important to prioritize your friend group(s) and not let them slide when things get busy. 

Why Friends Are More Than a Luxury

One of the main points this book makes is the extent to which our friends contribute to our well being across our lives and actually make us better at all of them.   

You know we are all probably guilty of thinking that we don’t have time for friends, or don’t need them, at some point in our lives.  Flora’’s hypothesis is that it simply isn’t true.   

The tribe, group, gang, or gaggle…whatever you want to call it…has been a part of human survival as long as there have been humans.  Sure, we need our families, but the best survival of the family comes from the friends. 

So if you want to be a good employee, or spouse/partner, or parent…or offspring…the best thing you can do is make sure you maintain those friend groups too.  You don’t need to and shouldn’t, according to the book, hang on to every friend you ever made, but you do need to have friend time in your life. 

Personally, I don’t count work friends.  Work friends are great, but you know what invariably happens…you end up talking about work so you don’t get a break from it.  Mix it up.   

Friends and Social Media

The penultimate chapter in this book, about the influence of social media on friendships, is the only one that dragged a bit for me, and I realized after the fact that the reason it seems a bit outdated is because this book was published in 2013.  Things have moved on a lot since then, most especially in the last year with the Pandemic quarantines. 

Reading this chapter from a historic perspective, it is interesting, and nice to see how much things have changed since then.  I would say we have gotten much better at integrating our online lives with our real lives so that social media actually makes it easier to keep and maintain a lot of friendships…and keep more on “the back burner”.  I have several friends that I no longer live near, but I keeping up with them on social media encourage us to meet up in person when we have the chance.  Personally, I like getting a perspective from many parts of the U.S. and even the world.  At the beginning of the pandemic, I was ready for all of the shortages because a sorority sister of mine shared photos from the line at Costco in California of circumstances that hit us on the East Coast about a week later.  But if this chapter does start to drag for you, go ahead and skim it or skip it.  It does need to be updated. 

Friendfluence is a great book to pick up as we start to pick up the threads of our “in person” social lives over the next few months, I hope.  Definitely find a copy.