When you think about the key factors to good health, what comes to mind? Obviously, healthy habits, good genes and luck. How about your relationships?
And when you think about your most important relationships, you may consider first your parents, partner, siblings or children. What about your friends?
Of course, there are many types of friendships. Not all Facebook friends are equal. They could be classmates, neighbours, party friends, drinking buddies, bowling friends, fishing pals, running partners or co-workers.
With each, you may share some common interests and varying degrees of connectedness and intimacy.
Through the stories shared by my patients, I see the impact of unhealthy friends. Many have described one-sided relationships where they have adopted the role of the giver or the listener.
When my patients need someone to talk to, they come to me because their friends do not reciprocate.
Some friends perpetuate unhealthy behaviour. You may share "good times" such as partying and drinking together, and together you "normalize" drug or alcohol abuse.
Every week, I surprise young men and women when I inform them that three standard alcoholic drinks (a regular glass of wine, a shot of spirits, or a can of beer) is the healthy single day limit for a man's liver while two drinks is the limit for a woman. Exceeding that on the weekend with friends officially makes them "binge drinkers."
Other unhealthy friends can encourage you to spend beyond your means - not just on food and drink but on entertainment and the luxury items that you neither need or can afford.
Your friends may also lead you to believe that a growing credit card debt is normal and reasonable.
Your friends shape your beliefs. They can perpetuate narrow-mindedness, racism, prejudice and sexism.
So what are the qualities of a healthy friendship? I need only think of the special friends who have enriched my life. I call them my soul friends. We are kindred spirits, and though we may have different backgrounds and jobs, we share core beliefs about what is good and a deep abiding love for one another.
Our relationships are reciprocal, each gives and takes, and each listens.
With my best friends, I don't even keep track of who gives more. My friend, Steve and I each grab for the dinner bill. Each of us feels we are getting the better deal and want to give more in return. It feels better than fair.
Soul friends know you best; they see deeply into your spirit. They recognize the best in you, and they bring it out. My friend Stan reminds me of my dreams and challenges me to live them.
With best friends, you can pick up where you left off even if you haven't talked for months.
In spite of the unpredictable changes in our lives and our preoccupation with family and work, I never grow apart from my childhood friends, Stew, Peter, Ron and Mike.
Best friends see all of you - including you at your worst moments. They accept and love you anyway.
They will tell you the truth even if you don't like it.
They will organize an intervention if you're out of line, destroying yourself or your life.
Appreciate and nurture your soul friends.
They are the rare and precious diamonds through which unconditional love shines.
They bring out the brilliance, beauty and meaning in your life.
Dr. Davidicus Wong is a family physician and writer. His Healthwise articles appear regularly in this paper. You can find his posts at davidicuswong.wordpress. com.