Strong social ties are a key to happiness. You need close, long-term relationships; you need to be able to confide in others; you need to belong; you need to get and give support. Studies show that if you have three or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.” Not only does having strong relationships make it far more likely that you take joy in life, but studies show that it also lengthens life, boost immunity, and cuts the risk of depression. It can be challenging enough to make the first step in starting a friendship. But ounce you’ve got the beginnings of a friendship, how do you keep it going? Here are some basic tips:
1. Use Facebook, Myspace or other social media.
One of the biggest obstacles to keeping friendships going is time. It takes time to email, to call, to make plans, to send holiday cards, to remember birthdays and to just keep up on another person’s life when you have one of your own. While it can be said that technology encourages people to stay tapping behind a computer screen rather than see people face-to-face, social media lets us keep in touch with more people. It gives us an efficient way to feel more up to date and have a stronger sense of connection.
2. Show up.
Nothing can replace seeing someone in person. Go to a wedding, go to a funeral, visit a newborn baby, make a date for lunch, stop by someone’s home. Make the effort.
3. Join or start a group.
They allow you to make and maintain new friendships. It turns out that seeing a person once every six weeks is plenty to keep a friendship alive. Meeting in a group is efficient, because you see a lot of people at once; it also means you’re creating a social network, not just a friendship. It’s a lot easier to maintain friendships with people if you have several friends in common.
4. Think about what’s fun for you.
People like to socialize in different ways. Maybe your friends like to go out drinking on Friday nights but that’s not fun for you, suggest different plans. Take charge of shaping your social environment. Some people become exhausted by their desire to keep up with all their friends; some people find it hard to get motivated to make plans at all. Think about what level and type of social activity brings you happiness, then make the effort to make it happen.
5. Be wary of false choices.
People say, ” I want to have a few close friends, not a bunch of superficial friends.” But that’s a false choice. There are all kinds of friends. You can have intimate friends and casual friends. I have work friends whom I never socialize with outside of work. I have childhood friends whom I only see once every couple years. I have online friends whom I’ve never met face to face. While all these friendships aren’t equally important to me, they still add to my life.
6. Make the effort to say “This made me think of you.”
We’re all busy, and keeping in touch can feel like a lot of work. One thing that works is to write “this made me think of you” emails whenever you see something of interest to a friend. Or when you see or think of something that reminds you “of that one time we did….” picking up the phone and sharing.
7. Cut people slack.
Except in the face of overwhelming evidence of bad intentions, try not to take it personally if a friend is late, cancels plans at the last minute, forgets about something that’s improtant to you, doesn’t answer an email, says something thoughtless……we all get caught up in our own lives sometimes. We have a tendency to view other people’s actions as reflections of their characters, and to overlook the power of a situation to influence their action. Don’t assume your friend is thoughtless and uncaring; maybe they are just overwhelmed by the demands of their own life.
8. Don’t expect friendship to happen spontaneously.
As with many aspects of happiness, people often assume that friendships should flow easily and naturally, and that trying to “work” on it is forced. Sometimes friendships naturally come together but in the world we live in today and all the demands life puts on us all, friendships are worth the “work” you put into them.