The protective power of friendship

Updated: 13 Jun 2023

As the Oddfellows celebrates Friendship Month, we asked Dr Jennifer Wild for her expert take on why having the support of friends is essential to living well, and how best to find and nurture them.

Your protectors

Headshot of Dr Jennifer Wild. She is stood with crossed arms and smiling to the cameraNot only do friends make our lives more fun, social and interesting, but having them by your side can also increase our sense of purpose and belonging, and provide a protective factor in times of need.

As Dr Jennifer Wild (pictured), Associate Professor of Clinical Psychology at Oxford University and friendship advocate, explains: “Friends are vitally important to our wellbeing.

“Friendship is a wonderful thing. Spending time with people who share our values and beliefs can be very motivating and laughter with friends improves our mood.

“But friendship also goes much deeper than that. The support that good friends provide can also be protective. Those with close companions they can lean on in tough times are less likely to suffer from depression. Friends offer perspectives more compassionate than our own, which helps to interrupt self-critical thinking and improve our problem-solving skill set.”

As the saying goes, you get by with a little help from your friends.

Two women in their 60s in a cafe having a cup of tea together

Building your support crew

It’s all very well telling people that having friends is wonderful, but we also know that not everyone has a ready supply, especially as we get older, move to new places or have big life changes.

A reliable approach is to focus on finding people with similar interests. This can be by joining a group with hobbies and shared interests like your own, or by taking up a new activity you’ve always wanted to try or haven’t before had the courage to – such as a group exercise class, a team sport, or a new craft.

Friendship groups such as the Oddfellows are designed to encourage friendship by holding events to suit lots of different tastes and interests, from coffee mornings and evening socials, to theatre trips and holidays.

Dr Wild adds: “Try to think outside of the box. If you like to watch football on TV try going to a local game, or instead of buying greeting cards, you could sign up for an introductory watercolour or calligraphy class to learn how to make them. Not only will you benefit from meeting new people, you’ll get your creative juices flowing, which research shows increases our happy feelings.

“Making friends in these circumstances will come more naturally because you’ll be absorbing yourself in an activity with people who share a similar interest.”

Zoom screen of lots of members enjoying crafting togetherMembers meet each month to craft online together

New friends = new experiences

While our family can provide us with many of the protective factors our friends do, there are plenty of advantages to having friends, particularly new ones.

Dr Wild says: “As we get older we have a wealth of life experiences, but it’s most likely that your partner, siblings and children will have heard these stories before.

“It will be rewarding telling those stories to a new audience. Not only that, but they will most likely enjoy the experience too! You may also learn different things from your experience by having another perspective.”

While sticking with your best friends from school or your first job can be immensely satisfying and supportive, give some credence to those friends you haven’t met yet!

Leave negativity behind

A technique suggested by Dr Wild is the ‘Then vs Now’ approach which is specifically aimed at helping older adults who have negative or nervous feelings towards making new friends based on past experiences of bullying or rejection.

“Making friends in later life can be disarming, but it’s important to remember that doing so as an older adult is completely different to making friends at school,” says Dr Wild. “As adults you have more experience and the maturity to be kind in social situations, so the rejection that may have occurred as a youngster is unlikely to occur as an adult. People are typically keen to hear what you have to say and in sharing experiences. Don’t forget, many will be in the same boat as you.”

‘Then Vs Now’ is a concept to help you unhook triggers in the present from memories in the past so that you can engage in new experiences without being haunted by difficult events. For example, if the last time you met new people was in a job that was competitive or where you worked alongside people who didn’t support you, you can focus on how your current environment and the people in it are totally different. Start noticing obvious features like how the people you’re socialising with look different, that you’re a different age to the past. Be sure to go out of your way to spot signs that people are being kind and friendly. Our brains are so tuned to spot patterns between the present and the past. To break the link between then and now, we need to spot what is different, especially what is different about how the people in your current situation are responding to you compared to the past.

Dr Wild explains: “In our younger days, trying to make friends may have been tough. It’s natural to hold onto those memories as we grow older. But the truth is, as an older adult, you have a much greater catalogue of life experience to call on as evidence that people are more likely to accept rather than reject you.

“People are interested in what you have to say just as you are interested in in them. This means making friends is likely to be a much more positive experience and come more naturally.”

9 members perched on a bridge in the countryside taking a break on a group walk

Friendship is a two-way street

It’s also important to remember that friendship is a two-way street – and whether you have dozens of friends or you’re looking to make new connections – your role will not only benefit you, but those around you.

Dr Wild says being aware of our social responsibility and thinking as much about what we can do for others as they can do for us, will help build confidence to make new friends.

She said: “If you’re in a situation where you are struggling to reach out, think about what benefit the other person will get from it too.

“You may have a friend who doesn’t appear to be very receptive to planning because they are busy and have a lot of responsibilities, but the next time you reach out could be the exact time when the support of a friend and a planned break is just what they need.

“The worst that could happen is someone could say no, but by reaching out, you are reminding them that they have a friend.”

Maintenance matters

Whether you have been friends for years, or you have recently developed a connection with someone, it’s vitally important that you put in the legwork to keep the friendship going.

“It takes time to maintain deep relationships,” says Dr Wild, “so it’s important to be proactive and put the effort in. Making a quick call can be all it takes. Even the act of making plans, so that there is a shared experience to look forward to, can make a big difference.”

A study by the German Economic Institute for Research found that people who made more social goals for the upcoming year, like seeing friends more, volunteering for a charity or helping someone in need, had jumps in life satisfaction within a year. This suggests that connecting with other people makes us feel happier and more fulfilled in the long-term.

Oddfellows friendship groups

Throughout September, the Oddfellows is celebrating Friendship Month and will be hosting hundreds of local taster events and online open days designed to make newcomers feel especially welcome and show them the benefits of joining a friendship group.

You can find your nearest by using our Branch Finder, or use our Events Finder to search for social events and activities happening near to where you live or online.

Contact us to request your free information pack and local events diary.

Read more advice on making friends and building social confidence in our friendship guides section.

About Dr Jennifer Wild

Dr Jennifer Wild is a consultant clinical psychologist and associate professor at the University of Oxford. Her book, Be Extraordinary: 7 Key Skills to Transform your Life from Ordinary to Extraordinary, is about how to transition from ordinary to extraordinary. For more information go to

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