One area that I definitely need to do better is to do a better job of keeping in touch with old friends. It’s because I value their friendship and because I want to know how they are doing.
I find that we tend to lose track of this in our daily lives, especially when we are busy and have so many other things going on in our lives. For me personally, right now is a particular time when I am time constrained (I have not been posting on my website nearly as much as I would like, which is every couple of days).
There are other practical challenges of course – in person contact is often not possible because people move, often far away, and even if they are in the same area, due to time constraints. Even opposite ends of a large city often requires a lot of logistical planning. Not only is it necessary for you to have the necessary time, but the other individuals need to be available and have spare time in that time slot. Nonetheless, I think it is a goal worth striving for even with the difficulties.
More recently, research suggests that having friends is correlated with increases to your threshold for pain. More specifically, more friends meant higher endorphin levels, which acts to suppress pain. The authors of that study compared it to exercising in terms of health benefits. Higher levels of stress were correlated with fewer friends as well. Curiously, those who are fitter had fewer friends. The authors suggest that may be because those who exercise have less time for socializing. Here is the Nature link. While it is important to always be skeptical of studies like this and remember that they find correlations, not definitive causation (take a good look at the study’s methodology), I have not found any studies so far suggesting any negative impacts of lots of friends.
However, I want to emphasize that you shouldn’t have friends or stay in touch in the hopes of getting something out of them, nor for that matter to increase your tolerance for pain, even though if the study is correct, it does have that positive effect. Just keep in touch for the sake of it. Share your struggles, your triumphs, while you learn about their lives, and what challenges they face or exciting triumphs they have experienced. Per chance, maybe you can help each other.
By far the most practical is email because it is location independent and the recipient can always answer on their own time. I’ve been wondering personally about the value of sending traditional “snail mail”. The problem is that you need the other person’s address, which may not always be possible and may be difficult to get when people move around frequently. It is not used as much, but I think that when it is used, it conveys a sense of much greater though.
All of this makes me wonder about an interesting question, what the best way to keep track of old friends is. I have been thinking about automated reminders (ex: birthdays may be a good starting point, but I do not know the birthdays of all my friends – although I probably should). That is definitely something worth thinking about – how best to keep in touch with our friends in a time constrained world.
Perhaps that may be the biggest indictment of our society, we have become so fast paced that we struggle to come up with the time to do what should matter the most to us.