Ancient thinkers and current scientists agree: strong social ties are a key — arguably thekey — to happiness. You need close, long-term relationships; you need to be able to confide; you need to belong; you need to get and give support. Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.”
But making friends can be difficult. Here are some strategies to try:
1. Show up. Just as Woody Allen said that “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” a big part of friendship is showing up. Whenever you have the chance to see other people, take it. Go to the party. Stop by someone’s desk. Make the effort. I'm a big believer in the power of online tools like Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to help sustain relationships, but nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting.
2. Join a group. Being part of a natural group, where you have common interests and are brought together automatically, is the easiest way to make friends: starting a new job, taking a class, having a baby, joining a congregation, or moving to a new neighborhood. If those aren’t an option, try to find a different group to join. Get a dog, for example. Or pursue a hobby more seriously.
3. Form a group. If you can’t find an existing group to join, start a group based around something that interests you. My children's literature reading groups – (yes, now I’ve helped start three of these groups) are among the top joys of my life. Movies, wine, cheese, pets, marathon-training, a language, a worthy cause…I know people in all these sorts of groups. You can start a Happiness Project group! (If you want the starter kit, to help launch a group, email me at gretchenrubin1 at gretchenrubin dot com.)
4. Say nice things about other people. It’s a kind way to behave; also, studies show that because of the psychological phenomenon of spontaneous trait transference, people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you ascribe to other people. If you say that Pat is hilarious, you’ll be linked to that quality.
5. Make an effort to smile. Big surprise, studies show that the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct effect on how friendly you’re perceived to be. In fact, people who can’t smile due to facial paralysis have trouble with relationships.
6. Make friends with friends-of-friends. “Triadic closure” is the term for the fact that people tend to befriend the friends of their friends. So friends-of-friends is an excellent place to start if you’re trying to expand your circle.
What other strategies have you used to help build friendship? And what challenges have you faced? The ones I hear the most are 1) lack of time and 2) new place with no network to draw upon. What about you?
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