Here’s the bad news: if you committed to a new year’s resolution, you are likely to have failed by now. A 2019 study of over 800 million activities found that 19 January was the day when most people’s discipline ran out. Here’s the good news: if your resolution was health related, and you are investing in building good friendships, you may already be engaging in a practice that is better for you than your abandoned gym subscription or new-found diet.

In 1950s America, there was a mystery in the small Pennsylvanian town of Roseto. Mortality rates were a third lower than in the rest of the United States. Heart disease was almost non-existent in otherwise high-risk groups. No one could work out why. Water sources were analysed, lifestyles were examined. It wasn’t their diet – wine, cigars and meatballs were consumed with abandon. It wasn’t the healthcare or the air quality.

It was the relationships.

Three to four generations lived under one roof. Neighbours had deep bonds of trust with one another. This town were the best of friends.

It turns out the secret of eternal life is not what you know but who you know. That sounds familiar doesn’t it?

Friendship is astonishingly powerful. It has profoundly positive effects on our mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Even if you eat badly, do no exercise and neglect other areas of your physical health, but have good friends, it is likely you will live longer than someone who is socially isolated. It really is better to eat kebabs with friends than salad on your own. (For the record, I am not suggesting your physical health is unimportant. Our bodies are temples and need looking after!)

It really is better to eat kebabs with friends than salad on your own.

We should not be surprised by these findings. We are formed by a Father who crafted us for connection. In the first pages of the Bible we read that eight times the Creator appreciates the virtues of what He has made, before stating something is not good. What is less than perfect?

He says, It is not good for man to be alone.’ (Genesis 2:18)

I understand when we say things like All I need is God.’ But God Himself suggests we need each other too. In the highs and lows of life I lean into the arms of my Saviour, but hold on tightly to the hands of my closest connections too. As I have walked through the darkest valleys, I have known the rod and staff of my shepherd, but also the warmth of my fellow sheep.

In a 2022 survey, YouGov asked the UK public what their new year’s resolutions were. The top eight were all about personal fulfilment and individual growth. What would it look like for us to commit to others in the months ahead? What if the sacrifices we made primarily laid down our lives for our friends rather than our waistlines? 

The power of good friendship is such that, if invested in the right places, you may find your other personal goals fulfilled along the way. When it comes to following Jesus, we cannot go it alone. A formative moment in the life of the founder of Methodism, John Wesley, came when an unknown, unnamed serious man,’ came to him and advised him with these true and profound words: 

Sir, you wish to serve God and go to Heaven. Remember that you cannot serve Him alone. You must therefore find companions or make them. The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.”

So, may you know just how good friendship is. May you celebrate its gifts and throw yourself into its riches. This year, may we invest our energies in the most important relationship of all – with Him who laid His life down for us – but also strive to be the best of friends to those around us. And may this be a new year’s resolution we are committed to keep.

Read more from Phil’s friendship series.

Building friendships with introverts: An extrovert's guide

Building friendships with introverts: An extrovert's guide

Phil Knox shares why friendship is a gift for all of us, no matter who we are
Standing on the shoulders of giants

Standing on the shoulders of giants

Why befriending people of different ages makes you stronger (and what it says about the church)