But sometimes other stuff gets in the way. We have crazy deadlines at work. If we have partners or kids, they might demand most of our free time. And occasionally, we might forget a birthday or realise it’s been months since our last catch-up.
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You’re not a bad friend, but perhaps you want to be an even better friend. And for good reason: Scientists have found that what separates the happiest 10% of the population from everyone else is the strength of their social bonds. Harvard psychologist George Vaillant once said that if you can think of someone you would feel comfortable calling at 4 a.m. to tell your troubles to, you have a good chance of living longer than someone who’s unable to do so. It’s true: People with strong social support are happier, live longer, and even catch fewer colds.
So, what can you do to strengthen your friendships?
Walk in Their Shoes
It’s easy to get impatient with Judy, who’s always running “just 10 minutes late” or Brian, the college buddy who always seems like he’s trying to upstage you. But here’s where empathy comes in: Take a few minutes to consider what it’s really like to be your friend. What unique challenges might they face? Research shows that practicing perspective-taking builds empathy, which can improve our relationships and make us more compassionate and understanding—a quality every good friend should have.
Savor Good Memories
Even if you haven’t seen a particular pal in awhile, sometimes all it takes to strengthen the bond is a reminder of past good times. Go through photos from a memorable event or vacation you enjoyed together—savor the details and point out memorable moments and funny details from the occasion. Scientists say that this type of shared savoring, called “capitalization,” improves our well-being, and helps foster positive social interactions by bringing us closer. Even if you can’t see your friend in person, you can still send them a “Remember when?” link to your photos from the event, pointing out the best moments from the day.
Celebrate Their Good News
Did Frank get a new job last month? Did Michelle have a new baby three months ago whom you still haven’t seen in person? Sure, you sent a card or email to congratulate them, but you can do even more! Meet up with a friend who recently had good news that you haven’t celebrated properly. When you see them, practice what scientists call “active constructive feedback”—show enthusiasm, ask them about all the little details, and get them to relive the moment with you. Research by Shelly Gable shows that when we respond to other people’s good news positively, they feel more understood, validated and cared for, which enhances the quality of your relationship and makes you—both of you—happier.