We all need friends.
Friends are good things. People you can relate to and share your life with. Most of our friends come from places we frequent, such as school, work, and church. But once the kids are grown and gone, we may not go to the same places as often as we did, and if we’re retired, we’re even less likely to. Still, friendships are important, even if it is necessary to “work at them to make them work.”
Our society tends to emphasize romantic relationships, but platonic friendships are even more important to our psychological health. We need friends to be really happy. Friendships also have a compelling impact on our physical well-being. According to a recent Swedish study, keeping a generous number of friends can add years to your life. Here’s why.
Friendship: a valuable investment
It takes time and effort to maintain good friend relationships, but the benefits far outweigh the energy it takes. Friends are:
Mood boosting. Having close friends who are happy and positive can boost your mood and heighten your sense of well-being. They can give you a cheerful, optimistic outlook.
Improving to your feelings of self-worth. When the kids are gone and especially if you’re no longer working full-time, you may not feel as needed. Giving to your friends can make you feel needed, even more than the taking side of the equation.
Your cheerleaders. When you’re trying to accomplish something, whether it’s sticking to a new diet, stopping smoking, get in better shape, or improve your life in some other way, you need cheerleaders to encourage you. Friends fill that need, and their encouragement can greatly increase your chances of meeting your goals.
Great depression suppressants. Isolation is a leading factor in the development of depression. Keeping yourself active socially helps to strengthen your immune system and keeps you from feeling alone.
Someone to share the load with. Life has its challenges. Whether it’s a serious illness, the loss of a job or a loved one, the end of a relationship, or other life threats, having someone to share the problems with can be the difference between overcoming those challenges and not.
Your support structure as you grow older. Sometimes we tend to lose our sense of purpose as things change, whether that is from retirement, illness, death of ones we love, or simple aging. Close friends offer a buffer against the devastating times and someone to rejoice with in the joyous times.
How to be victorious in the challenge of making new friends.
There are a couple of main reasons people draw back from pursuing new relationships that could become wonderful friendships. Here’s what people often say:
“I’m just too busy.”
In the busyness of our lives, it’s easy to think that developing friendships might take too much effort. But really, even with a packed schedule, it is possible to make time for friends. Just a few simple steps can make time for friends available. Try this:
Get together as a group. You more than likely have friends who would value each other, too, if they got to know one another. Try inviting compatible people to meet as a group if you really don’t have time for one-on-one get-togethers. You may find that all your friendships are enhanced when you are all together.
Schedule time. Make a date with your friend and then put it on your calendar. Many people find that a regular, inviolable appointment for lunch or maybe a tennis game becomes very important. We all know that we make time for the things that are important to us. Friendships need to be one of those important things, too.
Combine business and pleasure. Need to go to the gym? Shopping? Do it with a friend. It will be more fun and you’ll kill two birds with one stone. Just because you have something that simply must be done doesn’t mean you have to do it alone.
“I’m too shy.”
This is the fear of rejection, and believe me, we all suffer from it. No one likes putting himself or herself out there only to have the proverbial door slammed in our faces. If you’ve been traumatized or rejected in the past, it makes it that much harder to trust a new relationship, too. Being afraid that rejection will haunt you forever may signal a need to talk to a therapist to get to the bottom of an overwhelming fear. But otherwise, be willing to suffer a rebuff or two to find solid friends you can count on.
Maybe they’re too busy. Sometimes other people have too much on their plates to allow them to respond to your overtures. Don’t take it as rejection when it may be nothing more than busyness or distraction. Perhaps try again later.
An actual rejection isn’t necessarily a reflection on you. Some people are simply not nice. It’s also possible that they misunderstood you or have their own issues that prevent them from connecting in healthy ways. It doesn’t mean you’re unworthy or unloveable.
Cultivate a positive frame of mind. Rejection never feels good, but it isn’t the end of the world, either. It’s unlikely that the person who rejected you is sitting around berating you or laughing at you. The important thing is you tried, and that you won’t give up trying. The next time might be a winner!
Make it a habit to speak to strangers. People who often say a few words to strangers are less likely to feel rejection acutely. If the person they speak to doesn’t respond, it’s no big deal and there’s always the next person. It’s a fact of life that you won’t like everyone you meet, and you can’t expect everyone to like you. How dull life would be if we were all so similar!
How to find—and be—a good friend.
What exactly makes a good friend? If you want to make a friend, you also must be willing to be one. Cultivate these strategies and you’ll know when you’ve found someone you want to call friend.
Take a genuine interest in others. Everyone wants to be important, even if they’re the kind of person who operates behind the scenes. Did you ever notice that those people whose jobs are not in front of the camera also contribute to the production? They’re all important. But the only way they’ll ever know they’re important to you is if you take sincere interest in who they are and what’s important to them. Listen—really listen—when others talk. Don’t spend the time you should be listening formulating an answer in your mind; you’ll only miss what they’re saying. Listening is the best way to show genuine interest.
Give more than you take. Yes, life is a give-and-take journey, but if you will focus on giving, you may find that receiving comes on its own. Give a hug, give a smile, give a prayer, help with an errand, bring a meal. You get the idea. There’s a poem I like that puts it succinctly:
Art thou lonely, O my brother?
Share thy little with another.
Stretch a hand to one unfriended,
And thy loneliness is ended.
Be true-blue. A true friend doesn’t talk behind your back. Gossiping and judging others may be the order of the day when some people get together, but that doesn’t mean you have to be one of them. Marsh Sinetar said: “When you find yourself judging someone, silently say to yourself, ‘They are doing the best they can right now.’ Then mentally forgive yourself for judging.” Loyalty means that you protect your friend even when he or she is not around—particularly then. Jealousy and envy are twin evils. Don’t partake of their sin.
Stay upbeat. Most people want a relationship with someone who laughs with them. There’s an old saying about two kinds of people: those who brighten the room when they come in and those who brighten the room when they leave. Which do you want to be with? Of course, a good friend will be there through the hard times, but that hard times shouldn’t characterize your relationship. No one wants to be around a chronic complainer.
Be honest and open. Who are you, really? Not perfect; none of us are. Besides, who wants to be around someone who is perfect? Friendship can’t be built on hypocrisy. Sharing your true self with others allows them to share as well. Of course, you won’t want to pour out your whole life story to someone you just met, and they probably don’t want to know it all, anyway. Time will take care of that detail. Just be sure that you present yourself truthfully, as who you really are. Friends know each other inside out.
Leave the house. You probably aren’t going to find true friendships online (there are exceptions). Turn your computer off and get outside. There are a world of people waiting to meet you. Go find some.
Don’t assume you’re alone. Unfortunately, it’s a fact of life that most friendships have a lifespan. Most will fade with time. There are a lot of people looking for new friends, and those people are just like you.
Be engaging. Call a friend, at least once a day. Reach out to others. Don’t always wait for them to call you; be the instigator. But don’t text someone or Facebook them and think you’ve done the job. People relate to voices completely differently than they do to messages.
Prioritize friendships. Don’t relegate friendships to the back burner. Yes, your husband and family are important, as is your work and other activities. But friendships are good for you, and if you make time for them, you’ll cultivate relationships that make you happier and healthier.
Be passionate about something. Friends like to do things together. Whether it’s working out at the gym or knitting a sweater, sharing your passions with others is a good way to find and keep friends. Remember that birds of a feather flock together.
Don’t brush off intergenerational friendships. Not all your friends need to be your age. Time spent with someone older or younger than you are can enrich your life in ways you can’t imagine. The same is true of someone with a different lifestyle. Don’t be afraid to reach out to someone different than you are.
Join a group or two. Meetups are great places to find people with common interests. Don’t neglect groups that flow naturally out of your daily life, either, like church groups or volunteer organizations. When you first join a group, expect it to take a little time to make solid friendships there. Chances are that some of them have been together long enough to have developed friendships and it will take you a little time, too.
Convert an online friendship. Those people you’ve met online may be looking for friends, too. Although you always want to be careful of people you meet online, it’s a rich source of relationships to be discovered if you take some basic precautions. If you know this person only online, assume that he or she might not be who they represent themselves to be. Take a friend along to meet with your online acquaintance, and meet someplace public. Take your time getting to know this new person, and follow your gut. If your instincts tell you something is wrong, it probably is. Don’t risk it.
Friendships are an important part of life at any age. Make one.