Our Attitudes and Friendship: The Social Side of Mental Health

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship.”

Thomas Aquinas, 1225-1274

Socialization is but one of the four sides, or selves if you will, to our total selves; and so essential to maintaining mental health.

Essential to the nourishing of our social self is developing and maintaining friendships and our attitudes toward others. Without friends we have a gap in our total selves, and without positive attitudes, we have deficiency in our mental health.

We learn from a very young age about the value of friendship, and how important it is to our social and psychological development.

We learn to seek out those virtuous individuals that we may bond with in friendship; those that will offer us personal affection and unconditional positive regard, without expectations of anything in return…in times of joy and sorrow, sickness and good health…at all times….just to be there for us and we for them. We also learn at an early age that isolation from others leads to unhealthy thoughts, feelings, and actions.

As I have written about so often, friendship is but one of the core ingredients in maintaining a mentally healthy body and mind. The values and attitudes we hold are just as important, as well as our self-esteem; how we view ourselves and our perception of how we are seen by others.

Our values (the worth we place on our beliefs) and attitudes (how we feel toward something or someone) shape our thoughts, feelings, and behavior in life; and as much importance in our choice of friends and maintaining friendships. Above all we are solely responsible for our own behavior and choice of friends. We, as humans, are endowed with free will and intellect…we make the choices rather they be good ones or bad ones.

Most individuals know that true friendship is to be treasured, but as one ages friendship becomes much more important…it becomes essential if one is to maintain good mental health. We learn as we age that friendship is to be treasured and nourished, the same way in which our physical body needs nourishment.

We truly learn what the author John Doane meant when he wrote that most important meditation in his Devotions upon Emergent Occasions: “No man is an island entire of itself, every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main…as if a Manor of thy friends or of thine owne were; any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in Mankinde; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; It tolls for thee.”

As I age I am often drawn back to this quotation.

The true value of friendships is seen in many different lights, but when one has a physical disease it becomes much, much more apparent and meaningful.

About three years ago my wife was diagnosed with Cancer. I am very much attuned to that as I have Cancer and been in continuous Cancer treatment for the past 22 years.

Upon hearing about my wife’s condition our family and friends immediately responded to her; offering her needed support and unconditional love, which uplifted her spiritually, socially, and psychologically.

Family and friends from across our Country wrote and called, offering their messages of hope for her and our family; helping us immeasurably in working through the normal grieving process so common when one gets that news. That is the true value of friendship, and we have been so grateful to have true friends such as those.

This is the time when we know, and understand, just who our friends are; those that give unconditional positive regard, giving of themselves without expecting anything in return, despite the circumstances. I know that most of you reading of this article have been in similar, if not the same, circumstance and know the value of supportive family and friends. It is an age old story that is repeated every hour of the day in our culture.

I am most fortunate to relate that my wife , after surgery and treatment, has been Cancer free this past two and one-half years…I most certainly have an attitude of gratitude.

There have been numerous poems, stories, movies, and songs about friendship; throughout recorded history…generating thoughts and the associated feelings of friendship and love. What goes on in the brain relative to having friendships?

Without exception, feelings can only exist with foregoing thoughts. One must have the thoughts to generate feelings. When one relates the thoughts neuron cells within the brain release a given chemical that increases activity among the targeted cells of the particular part of the brain where the feelings will be generated.

In the case of friendship, the “signals” are passed to the pleasure center of the brain which give rise to the feeling state we are accustomed to. As with addictions, we are drawn back to those thoughts which give rise to “good” feelings; thus the reason for our continued friendships.

I shall never forget working with persons with addictions and mental illness…due to their conditions they had a great deal of difficulty separating thoughts from feelings, but mainly because they were confusing one another.

The understanding of the difference gave rise to the most accepted form of counseling therapy in use throughout the world today; Cognitive Behavior Therapy; which essentially states that if one needs to change their behavior and feeling states, then they must change their thoughts.

It was always most profound to know that once stabilized the clients/patients “found out who their friends are;” those who shared addictions and mental illness vs those who were true friends. I write of this now because it has a lot to do with how friendships are established and maintained.

True healthy friendships to not happen by happenstance my friends, they must be established and nourished. Treasure those who are your friends, with expectations of nothing in return save their warm thoughts and regards for you…and may you continue to reciprocate those actions; and perhaps above all, have an attitude of gratitude.

Until Next time, Stay Healthy My Friends!