Sometimes I want to pinch myself when I think about how many awesome people I have in my life.

When I use the term friend, it’s not just the girls I go to happy hour with or the people I’ve stayed in touch with from my sorority. I think the term friend applies to so much more.

Friends are people who make you happy, who teach you things and who hold you accountable. They offer support, challenge you and bring humor into difficult situations. Friends read your blog, bake for your birthday, show up on your doorstep when you hurt and assure you you’re skinny when you need to hear it.

Friendships have always been important. As a kid, friends teach each other simple lessons: share snacks, don’t hit and don’t cut in line. In middle school, friends help you discover your own identity through sharing clothes, make up and secrets. High school friends are there for your first broken heart and when you choose a prom dress and a college. And college friends – man – where to begin? Let’s just say I think we can all agree they have the opportunity to see you at your best and at your worst as you’re set loose into adulthood.

As an adult, friendships have become even more important. In fact, I’m not sure the word important even does it justice. Friends are essential, intertwined throughout our lives like DNA.

At every stage of life, I’ve found new friends in unexpected places. Work, the gym, volunteer programs, you name it. Some of the people I’m closest to are ones I met in the most obscure ways – and over the past few years a few of my coworkers have become some of my dearest friends and mentors – you know who you are – and for that I am completely grateful.

As I’ve gotten a little older (and maybe a little more mature?) I’ve learned more astutely that every friendship can be different. I have some friends I see three times a week and some I don’t talk to for months at a time but love just the same. I have friends all over the world and in my own backyard. Friends who party with me and friends who go to yoga with me.

I believe that surrounding yourself with people who inspire and help you grow is one of the most important keys to happiness, and I work to stay connected to all the special people in my life.

Over the past few weeks, I’ve had some classic experiences and communication with different friends – it’s what got me thinking about writing this post in the first place. So if the nonsensical messages and photos interspersed throughout this are confusing, just know they mean a lot to somebody.