Friendship is one of the most important contributors to a happy life. Read how you can invest in relationships with friends and make them even better
The science behind the effects of friendships and your wellbeing
Decades of research have shown that relationships are the key to happiness. Humans are inherently social, and we thrive on connections with others. In fact, spending quality time with people you trust and value not only uplifts your mood but also boosts brain health, reducing the risk of conditions like dementia. It fosters a sense of belonging, safety, and releases oxytocin, the ‘love and trust hormone’, triggering serotonin and dopamine, the feel-good hormones. Whereas prolonged social isolation or loneliness could even reduce life expectancy by an astonishing 15 years!
So now that we know the value and benefits to having friends, let’s dive into some obvious and not-so-obvious ways to make friends and strengthen the bond between you and others.
1. Dare to be alone
This sounds like a very strange tip for an article about friendship, but if you’re good at being by yourself, this means that you won’t just form friendships to feel less scared or alone. You won’t settle for less and you’ll only become friends with the people you find truly special. Being able to be alone gives you the strength to be there for your friends when they need you, and that builds a better bond. Furthermore, when you’re alone, you learn what’s most important to you, and it gives you time to recharge.
2. Meet like-minded people
Making friends as an adult can be hard. But one of the best ways is to meet people is to take up a hobby you love and, ideally, something that involves a group. Whether it’s joining a choir, taking up a team sport like football or heading to an art or language class, you’ll have something in common that you can build from. If the group doesn’t already, why not suggest grabbing a quick drink after the next session? You can start by chatting about your shared hobby and then go from there.
3. I’m shy – how do I make friends?
Any of the following tips might feel quite intimidating if you’re shy, but stepping out of your comfort zone is half the work! Take it slow by venturing out in public more, starting with low-key venues or small market squares. Smile at strangers and engage in small talk with the florist or a co-worker. These small steps can boost your mood, increase your energy levels, and improve your social skills. If you have hobbies, connect with like-minded individuals, as research suggests it’s easier to bond with them. And finally, stay open minded and curious.
You have high standards for yourself and for your friends. But sometimes you need to set the bar a bit lower for yourself, and that also applies to your friends. If you accept somebody’s faults, you’ll probably feel much closer to them than if you’re constantly paying attention to their shortcomings. And if you show vulnerability, this will be appreciated and strengthen the bond between you.
5. Be present
In the days of digital communication, you can easily go weeks—or even months—without seeing your friends. Sometimes this is unavoidable, like when they’re living abroad. But if this isn’t the case, really try to make time to see each other. When you get together, truly listen to them. Don’t be sneaking glances at your phone: put it on silent and try to listen attentively without letting your thoughts drift.
6. Don’t hold onto grudges
We all know that feeling of realising how much you love somebody only after something terrible happens. It would be truly awful if you didn’t work through your differences beforehand. So, you should do this as soon as possible: don’t hold onto grudges and forgive each other’s mistakes. This takes a bit of courage, but you’ll notice that it can actually bring you closer together. Perhaps this forgiveness meditation.
7. Be considerate
We’re all busy, and during those moments that you might not able to be physically present, you can be present in other ways. Send a spontaneous note or an article that you think your friend would be interested in, or maybe even a book or movie you’d both like that you can talk about the next time you see each other.
8. Respect differences
Especially in the current political climate, differences in political opinion can cause arguments or growing apart. But it doesn’t have to be this way and it’s also a bit of a pity, because who really wants a friend group full of yes-men? Isn’t it much more interesting to also have close relationships with people who have different opinions than you? In order to maintain a good relationship, it’s important that whatever is said is not taken personally. Try to be open to each other’s opinions, to learn from each other and if tempers are running too high, agree to disagree.
9. Determine if you’re a giver, taker or a combination of both
Nobody becomes friends in a day. Friendship is something that needs to be built up, depending on the interaction that you have with each other. And that interaction is also dependent on your personality type. Are you a giver who cares about everyone and thinks too little about themselves? Are you more the opposite and think only about what you’re getting out of a relationship, without giving something back? Or do you know how to strike the perfect balance between the two? Figure this out on your own and then adapt as much as necessary, because friendships are always a question of giving and taking.
We hope these tips help you deepen existing relationships and maybe even build some new ones. Especially with the coming holidays, it’s important to surround yourself with the people you love and to open your heart to them. Why not give this guided meditation a try and cultivate some love for yourself and the world around you.