One Is The Loneliest Number

Reverend ​Shantell Hinton from the Vanderbilt Office of Religious Life looks at the role of friendship in our lives: why we need them, how we maintain them, and how they can enable us to live more satisfying lives.

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Rosemary Cope:  Welcome to this edition of the Vanderbilt University Health and Wellness wellcast.  I am Rosemary Cope with Work/Life Connections.  Our guest today is Reverend Shantell Hinton.  Shantell is a graduate of Vanderbilt University, Colorado State University, and Vanderbilt Divinity School.  She is currently the Assistant University Chaplain and the Assistant Director of Religious Life.  One of the most important, and yet, least understood areas of psychology concerns the role of friends in our lives.  Studies show friends can boost your happiness and reduce your stress.  They can improve your self-confidence and self-worth.  They can help you cope with trauma, such as divorce, serious illness, job loss, or the death of a loved one, and encourage you to change or avoid unhealthy lifestyle habits.  Shantell, it seems we are naturally made to be in relationship or in community with others.  What are your thoughts on why friends are important in our lives?

Rev. Shantell Hinton:  I think I read somewhere once that friends are the family that we can choose, and I think that friends are really the difference between us living a life of full happiness and joy and being ... versus having a life of emptiness and sadness.  I think that friends are people who are our mirrors, because they help us see ourselves, but they are also people who show us mercy when we need it.  So, when we are very hard on ourselves, even though they might know the worst things about us, they still love us regardless.  So, I think that friends are extremely important.  There is an African proverb that says, "Ubuntu," which means, "I am because we are," and I think we are a product of the village that's around us.  And in so many ways, we become better versions of ourselves by the friends and the company that we keep.  So, I think friendships are completely vital to who we are as people and to our growth.  

Rosemary Cope:  So, just as we all know that improving our physical health might include a healthy diet and exercise, what do we need to do to work on the health of these very vital friendships and relationships that we have?

Rev. Shantell Hinton:  That's a great question.  I think we take our friendships for granted sometimes, particularly people in the millennial generation, such as myself.  We are so on the go, so social media driven, and we feel like, well, our friends can see what we are doing on social media, so it is easy to not be accountable to our friends.  So, I think some of the things that we can do to improve the health of our relationships would be being intentional about getting together in person, not via social media.  That would be number one.  Number two, asking what the other person needs in the friendship as well as being clear on what you need in the friendship, because I think friendships evolve over time, right, and the nature of the way that you are able to give to the relationship and what you can expect from the relationship will change.  So, I think being clear about those expectations, but then also self-assessing if it is time for the nature of your relationship to shift, because it may be that that friendship has run its course in your life and it is taking up space in your life that is not healthy.  So, I think being accountable to meeting up, thinking through your expectations of the relationship, and also knowing what you need from relationships in general are really good to assessing the health of your overall friendships.

Rosemary Cope:  I know that people seek you out for guidance, so as a religious leader, what has been your experience of the role of friendship and how it plays in helping people to live more satisfying lives?

Rev. Shantell Hinton:  Wow, that is a really great question.  I think, in college, particularly working with college students, this is the time of your life where you are meeting many of your lifetime friends, and they don't know it yet, but I can see a lot of times, as someone who is a professional, that these friendships that they are making can either be extremely healthy, in that they are going to be beneficial for them in the long run, or the contrary.  So, I feel like helping young people to assess the roles that their friends are playing in their lives is extremely important because friends can be the difference in life and death sometimes.  Friends can be the people who pick up the phone, that you call when no one else answers.  I absolutely believe, as a person of faith, that friends are like the arms of God that give you a hug when you need it the most, and so, I think that understanding that friends are a lot of times God's instruments on earth, helps us to get to a place of living more fully into who God wants us to become.

Rosemary Cope:  And you are right, and everything that we touched on just says we truly do need each other no matter what.

Rev. Shantell Hinton:  Yes.

Rosemary Cope:  Thank you for listening.  Please feel free to leave us any comments on this wellcast by clicking the "Add New Comment" link at the bottom of this page.  If you have a story or a suggestion, please email it to us at or you can use the "Contact Us" link on our website