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.” 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 (incredibly, even more than stopping smoking), boosts immunity, and cuts the risk of depression.
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It can be challenging to make the first overtures of friendship (here are some tips for being likable). But once you’ve got the beginnings of a friendship, how do you proceed? How do you keep a friendship going? Here are some strategies that I use:
1. Use Facebook, Twitter, 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. For that reason, I love social media. Some people argue that technology hurts friendships, because it encourages people to stay tapping behind a computer screen rather than see people face-to-face. At the extreme, this is a bad thing, but for me, at least, technology lets me keep in touch with more friends in a wildly more efficient way. I feel more up-to-date, I feel a stronger sense of connection. At the same time…
2. Show up. Nothing can replace seeing someone in person. Go to a party, go to a wedding, go to a funeral, visit a newborn baby, make a date for lunch, stop by someone’s desk. Make the effort. But because it can be tough to make time for friends, one strategy can be to…
3. Join or start a group. I’ve joined or started eleven groups since I began my happiness project, and almost all of them (particularly my children’s literature reading groups) have been huge engines of happiness—in large measure, because they’ve allowed me 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 one-off 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, or to go to the movies, but if that’s not fun for you, suggest different plans. Take charge of shaping your social environment. Some social people become exhausted by their desire to keep up with all their friends; some less-social 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.