GENERATIONS: Laughing with friends, for a 'feel good' effect

Since retiring, my calendar is less rigid, but I still tend to fill it up. It’s important to me, though, not to schedule anything on coffee days if at all possible.

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Sue Bruns, second from left, gathers with her coffee friends at Raphael's Bakery in Bemidji. Last month at Raphael’s Bakery friends, from left, Nancy Erickson, Sue Bruns, Paulette Grand, Pat Brink, Mary Kostohryz and Linda Phillips toast for a “speedy recovery” message to missing “coffee mate” Mary Varriano after foot surgery.
Courtesy / Sue Bruns

Every Tuesday and Friday, I have coffee with a group of friends.

We’ve changed the days and times over the years to accommodate one another’s schedules or to coincide with the days Raphael’s Bakery is open.

When we first started, I think we planned to meet once a month, but we quickly switched to every other week. Then it got too confusing to remember which week was the other week, so we just started meeting every week, and eventually twice a week.

Since retiring, my calendar is less rigid, but I still tend to fill it up. It’s important to me, though, not to schedule anything on coffee days if at all possible. Coffee takes priority over almost everything — except grandparent duties — for all of us.

Our coffees usually last an hour and a half to two hours, so it’s a good thing Raphael’s doesn’t have parking meters on their tables. In 90-120 minutes, we down several ounces of coffee (or tea) and a few slices of toast or a sweet roll each.


Our conversations cover current events (local, regional, national — even worldwide, sometimes), books, movies, health and medical updates, family (complete with photos passed around on cell phones) and more.

It’s highly unusual to go more than a few minutes without laughter. Someone will share a funny or embarrassing story (current or from personal history) and we’ll all be chuckling away. (If you’ve sat at a table near us, my apologies, but you just don’t know what you’re missing).

When we leave, we inform the group if we won’t be at the next coffee session, because we’re friends and we’re concerned about each other. (Also, if it’s a day when almost everyone is going to be gone, no one wants to be the only one to show up for coffee, because, let’s face it, it’s really not about the coffee).

Whenever I count my blessings (and I do this daily) my friends are at the top of my list. And lest you think family should be ranked first, I say that my family are also my friends.

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Pictured from left: Mary Kostohryz, Paulette Grand, Pat Brink and Sue Bruns. During COVID, Bruns would often meet with her friends outside the Great Northern Depot, bringing their own coffee and treats, and distance themselves.
Courtesy / Sue Bruns

I am fortunate to have friends from my book club, writing group, coffee group, my high school reunion group, and other friends from other connections. Friends have never been as important to me as they are today.

I believe we need our friends more as we age than we ever did before. Retirement, empty nest, and aging can be lonely and unfulfilling without a good core group of friends. Kids grow up, move away, start their careers and families, and we’re not always a part of their daily routines.

Spending time with my friends leaves me feeling warm inside, de-stressed, relaxed but energized, and I don’t think it’s just the effects of the caffeine or wine I might be consuming with them. It’s the actual physical and chemical effect of friendship, of sharing time, conversation, laughter and sometimes tears.

I decided to google “Healthy effects of friendship” and checked out the Mayo Medical site and another site from Harvard Medical School.


What I learned is that my “feel good” friendship effect really has a physiological explanation, that the physical and emotional/psychological effect I experience is due to naturally occurring “feel-good” hormones — like dopamine, serotonin, endorphins and oxytocin — that are released when we spend time with friends.

Laughter helps to release these hormones into our systems. Positive effects include better sleep and less stress and anxiety, even a feeling of euphoria and bonding.

Some foods and drugs can boost these effects, but a group around a coffee table is a pretty nice, inexpensive, non-invasive way to feel better without negative side effects. Exercise is another to way to get the “feel good” effect, as is ultraviolent light — being outside — so for a double or triple effect, exercise outside with friends.

When I think about all of the other coffee groups that meet regularly, I realize that a lot more “feel good” hormones are being released than just those at our table. I can see the effects on the faces of the other coffee group members.

But I also think about people who don’t have a core group to share things with — people who have moved here recently, don’t know anyone, have lost a spouse maybe are at home with someone who needs round-the-clock care or maybe are just quiet, shy people who need someone to extend an invitation.

I hope those people will find a way to get connected, reach out, volunteer somewhere to meet new people and get those endorphins going. Or just invite someone to have coffee. It’s a start.

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