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Remember when you were a child growing up dreaming about what you wanted to be? Some of the ideas might have been super hero…rockstar…doctor…dancer…professional athlete…astronaut…etc. I have a four-year old nephew who is obsessed with the Transformers, Bumblebee in particular. Everyday of his life he “transforms” and re-enacts fighting decepticons, the bad guys. There is no doubt in his mind that he is actually fighting for good in real life. He is so good at it, sometimes he has me believing it too!

What is my point?

That when you were young, you believed that you could truly become whatever you wanted to be. There was no doubt in your mind. You likely acted it out often in your play time. It is also likely that either your parents, other friends, or even imaginary friends joined you in your adventures of fighting crime, rocking out on stage, or flying to the moon. 

In the world of psychology, this is called cooperative play. This type of play typically begins between the ages of 4 and 6. This is the stage of life where play finally becomes organized into groups and teamwork is seen. This is where the child is interested in both the people that are playing and not just the activity in front of them. This is an integral part to a child’s life as this type of play is closely tied to the cognitive, socio-emotional, and motor development of young children. But in the child’s mind, the most important thing here is that his or her imagination comes to life. 

Although, children keep developing as they get older, there is a significant lesson that can be learned for all of us from this particular stage of development. If harnessed effectively, this has the potential to change not just your life, but the world all around you. 

What exactly is that?

Friends…that believe with you. The ones that you can process big thoughts and dreams with. The ones who tell you that you can actually accomplish those things. The ones that will say, “I’ll do it with you.” The ones who will fight crime, rock out on stage, and fly to the moon with you. The ones who will cooperatively play with you. 

The Science of Friends

In 2008, a study was conducted to measure the rewards of friendship. In this particular study, participants stood in front of a hill, either alone or alongside a friend. They then were asked to estimate how steep that hill seemed. Across the board, the participants who stood with a friend at their side, reported that the hill seemed less steep than the participants who stood alone. In another variation, participants stood alone looking at this hill but were asked to simply think about a friend. Results showed that by simply bringing a friend to mind, again, made the climb seem much less daunting. 

These findings reveal much more than just having friends as a good idea. Rather, it uncovers a deeper reality that we, as humans, need connection. We need friends. What if good friends are the key to successfully ‘climbing the mountain’ in your life? What if good friends are the solution to making your fears seem a lot less scary. What if good friends are the secret to making your dreams a reality?

Studies also shows that we tend to like ourselves better when we think about the friends in our lives who are important to us. Researchers had people take a test. Afterwards, they asked them to spend time thinking about a warm or positive friendship, a cold or negative friendship, or a neutral relationship. After spending some time thinking about their designated friendship, they were all told that their performance on the test was not very good. Their response to hearing the results were then measured. What they found was that the people most willing to work on their deficiencies and accept an opportunity to learn were the ones who thought about the positive friendships.

Therefore, having good friends in our lives can help us cope with our own perceived failures. They can help us take the hard things in our lives and learn from them. They can help us love ourselves even when we don’t feel like we are succeeding at anything in life. They can be the difference between stopping halfway up the mountain of your dreams or summiting it. This is why friends can not only change your life, but the world around you.

History of Friends

Although research has more recently grown in the area of friendship, there has been a much heavier prior emphasis on the area of romantic relationships. Regardless of where research is at on friendship, this is not a new concept by any means. If we look into history, I think we will agree that there has been many examples of how friendship changed the world we are living in now. 

Let’s open up up the history books for a minute…

  • Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass

This egalitarian friendship between African-American abolitionist Douglass and President Lincoln changed the entire course of our nation. During the American Civil War, their friendship proved a role model for the new America. Not only that but what resulted was the elimination of the legality of slavery in our nation. 

  • Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and company. 

Behind Dr. King’s great advances for freedom in our nation was a group of tight-knit friends. Ralph Abernathy, Andrew Young, Dr. Benjamin Hooks, and Jesse Jackson were their names. All of whom were no light-weight political figures of their time. Even after Dr. King’s assassination they continued to carry the torch of his dream traveling the country, speaking, organizing, rallying and marching. Jesse Jackson, who had been with Dr. King on the day of his assassination, became a member of the House of Representatives and the first African-American U.S. ambassador to the United Nations. It says a lot when your entourage stays in the spotlight after you are gone. 

Flipping to some more modern day examples in business…

  • Microsoft.

Founded by Bill Gates and Paul Allen. They grew up as childhood friends. They shared a love of computers and bonded over hacking computers together in high school. Revolutionary? Absolutely.

  • Apple. 

Founded by Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak. The two of them became friends at a summer job in 1970. Wozniak was focused on building a computer and Jobs saw the potential to sell it. Life-changing? No doubt.

  • Ben & Jerry’s

Founded by Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield. They, too, were childhood friends, only born four days apart. They met in high school and shared a love of food. They took a course in ice-cream making together in 1977. Arguable the best-tasting, most convenient ice cream of our day? Hands down.

What About You?

So, what are the big ideas you have in your life? And who are the people that will come and ‘play’ with you? Who are your friends that will put on a superhero cape to fight the bad guys, or grab their microphone and rock out on stage with you, or build a rocket ship out of cardboard boxes and fly to the moon together? Remember, there is no dream of Dr. King without his team and there is no Ben without Jerry. Make your friends a priority. They are worth it. Your life depends on it and the world does too.

 

References

Kumashiro, M., & Sedikides, C. (2005). Taking on board liability-focused information: Close personal relationships as a self-bolstering resource. Psychological Science, 16, 732-739.

Schnall, S., Harber, K. D., Stefanucci, J. K., & Proffitt, D. R. (2008). Social support and the perception of geographical slant. Journal of Experimental Social Psychology, 44, 1246-1255.

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