In Ranlo, N.C. (population 3,500), Linda Benfield decided that if she wanted to expand her repertoire of female friends, she would have to make it happen herself. The group Healing With Laughter was born, and in just three years it's grown from a handful of members to about 130, with many hailing from nearby small towns.
The rapid acceleration in membership points to a common desire: more time with friends, less hassles organizing outings. I don't know about you, but trying to get my BFFs together almost requires an act of Congress. Benfield's group sidesteps that problem by sponsoring themed lunches each month—come as your favorite silent movie star, for example—creating a dependable outlet for friendship and fun. Members use the group's Facebook page to organize spontaneous gathering whenever the mood strikes. There are spin-off groups as well—a prayer group and a weekly hiking group for example.
As more and more research links strong social networks to greater longevity, it's clear that regularly scheduled outings with a vibrant group of women are a boon to mental and physical health. Karan Erwin has been a member for almost a year. "It's changed my life, she says. "Sometimes, when you're all by yourself, you tend to get lonely and you stay stagnant. It helped me to blossom."
The group isn't just about eating and laughing and dressing up in costumes—members do service work as well. "Life is so filled with drama that we need to be able to let it go once in awhile and enjoy life. In fact, that was my motto early on—Life is an adventure and the best is yet to come," Benfield tells Life Reimagined. "We all fight everyday battles and it is important to have a group of women who know us and care for us, who know our challenges and love us anyway."
Benfield keeps membership criteria simple: "There are no rules, no agenda. Just be willing to laugh and be your authentic self." Oh, and no complaining or gossiping.
How to start your own group? "Just ask people to do it. Ask people to meet for lunch and throw it out there. Most people are anxious to have something to look forward to."