Friendship — the only relationship that we enter completely voluntarily and with no strings attached and no formal structure. We make new ones; we fall out of touch with old ones. With all the other relationships in our life that feel like they need pressing attention — our romantic relationships, our parents, and our kids — how important are our friendships, really?
As it turns out, despite the fact that friendships might take the biggest hit in our busy lives, scientists have found that friendships play an important role and have an impact on our lives. Friends color our lives with meaning, fulfillment, and a sense of stability. Research shows that our degree of social connectedness is one of the greatest indicators of how happy or unhappy we are. The more friends you have has been linked to your overall health and how long you’re likely to live. Letting friendships fall to the wayside can have a negative impact on your sleep, cognitive function, and overall health. A long period of time without meaningful friendships can lead to loneliness, which has been shown to have the same degree of negative impact on your health as smoking, obesity, drinking, and a lack of exercise.
However, it’s natural for friendships to change over time, and it’s normal that as adults we might struggle to maintain the plethora of friends we once had as young adults. When we’re young, our life centers around our friendships. These friends usually live nearby and have many shared reference points and similar experiences to yours. This makes bonding and staying connected easy. However, as life takes hold and we move to new neighborhoods for careers or romantic relationships, this makes it harder to maintain these relationships and therefore naturally starts to be less time for them. Sometimes, we lose touch with those friends who defined and shaped our young adult years and create new friendships formed around work, kids, or our spouse. Interestingly, studies show that once we retire, prioritization for our friends starts to increase once more.
If you feel fulfilled by your degree of social stimulation and the friendships you currently have, great! However, if you’re yearning for more friends (and after the COVID lockdowns, we don’t blame you!), read our tips for finding, building, and maintaining fulfilling friendships in your adult life.
1. Assume people like you
When we act as though we think others like us, we tend to share more about ourselves and have a more positive attitude, which leads people to like us more.
2. Take the first step
Friendship takes effort and doesn’t happen if you’re home on your couch. Make an active effort to put yourself out there and in situations where it’s possible to meet others. Try new things, join a gym or club, and be ready to accept social invitations when they arise.
3. Show up consistently
“Exposure effect” describes the phenomenon that we tend to like things more when they seem more familiar. This applies to people, too. We like the people we see more, and we tend to like people more when we know we will see them again.
4. Don’t be afraid to be vulnerable
To form a real bond with someone requires you to open up about yourself and to let others share about themselves equally. Ask questions and listen, then don’t be afraid to share in turn. Science has shown that the more you share about yourself and the more you show someone you value them, the more you both will like each other.