Friend and benefits!

 Here we unravel the advantage of having friends over health, your social status and more

There are four aspects to expat alliances: the friends you leave behind; the friends you make in a new place; those you go back home to, if you move back permanently; and the fellow expats that you befriend, and who may eventually move away.

“Five signs your friendship is turning toxic”; “Are you in a one-sided friendship?”; “How does your ambition affect your best buddies?” Friendship quizzes are a dime a dozen both online and in magazines.

While most of us don’t take the results too seriously, experts say that friendship can have a real and measurable impact on mental health. In fact, a recent study, published by researchers from Michigan State University, states that “over a person’s lifetime, friends come to become more important to health and happiness than family”. This theory may hold particularly true for those living and working outside of their home countries.

Each of these friendship “types” comes with its own set of potential pitfalls, and in certain circumstances can result in negative emotions such as boredom, loneliness, anxiety and even depression. The trick is to be surefooted as you build stimulating and long-lasting relationships.

The benefits of having friends are multitudinous. From satisfying our inherently sociable mental make-up and acting as soundboards to making us feel beneficent when we initiate or return the favour, good friends can positively impact one’s personality, perceptions and emotions.

Beware, though, that in your haste to form bonds, you may become overly receptive to relative strangers. The temptation to make new “best friends” can result in friendships that are superficial and, ultimately, short-lived. Mentally, this can be taxing if one person drifts away while the other is still invested.

While there is no set formula for long-lasting bonds, there are a few obvious requirements: communication, respect, patience and trust. Sharing core experiences is another major factor, which leads to the school of thought that the friendships formed in one’s childhood are more likely to be meaningful and stand the test of time. What happens, then, when one friend moves away?

While there’s no denying the importance of bonds forged and nurtured early on, this then raises another question: is it easy, or even possible, for adults to develop friendships that are as strong later in life? Risoli emphasises the role that self-awareness plays in forming healthy alliances.

There is also a possibility that a fellow expat might up and leave. Befriending locals or members of the many other nationalities that thrive within the UAE’s multicultural milieu, on the other hand, is a good way to feel more familiar with a country, its culture, foods and people. And in the case of mental health vis-à-vis friendships, familiarity breeds comfort.

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