To Make a Friend, Ask Someone For a Favor.

I’m working on my Happiness Project, and you could have one, too! Everyone’s project will look different, but it’s the rare person who can’t benefit. Join in — no need to catch up, just jump in right now. Each Friday’s post will help you think about your own happiness project.

Here’s a resolution that might sound counter-intuitive: Ask for a favor.

Ask for help, for advice, for suggestions. Asking for a favor is a sign of intimacy and trust. It shows that you feel comfortable being indebted to someone. I remember a friend at work telling me, “I never liked that guy until he told me he needed to borrow $50 from me. Then I realized he must consider me a friend, and presto! I started liking him.”

Studies show that for happiness, providing support is just as important as getting support. By offering people a way to provide support, you generate good feelings in them.

So asking, and receiving, a favor generates good feelings on both sides.

Obviously, there are small favors and big favors. You don’t want to ask someone to take care of your dog while you’re on vacation unless that person is already a CLOSE friend. But asking for a recommendation for a good dentist isn’t burdensome.

One of my most helpful Secrets of Adulthood is It’s okay to ask for help. Asking for help is a very useful way of asking for a favor. I’m absolutely mystified by asking for help is so hard for me. So often, I can just solve a problem by asking for help—which is almost always freely and cheerfully given.

Happiness paradoxes: it can be selfless to be selfish, and you can be generous by taking.

How about you? Have you had an experience where you asked for a favor — or were asked for a favor — and the favor ended up strengthening your relationship?

* A very interesting study suggests that once you’ve developed muscle, especially during your youth, your muscles can more easily return to previous fitness levels than if you were starting from scratch.

*Looking for a good book to read over the Labor Day holiday? Please consider The Happiness Project (can’t resist mentioning: #1 New York Times bestseller).
Order your copy.
Read sample chapters.
Watch the one-minute book video.
Listen to a sample of the audiobook.

  • Hi Gretchen,
    I was thinking about friendship today as well. I wrote about friendship this morning on my blog and, happy to be done with my early morning tasks, on a whim I decided to check your post for today. Same topic 🙂 Different angle.
    The Happiness Project blog inspired me to start a project of my own, a blog about Creativity. Thanks for the inspiration.

  • Kathi

    I asked my parents to help more with my kids. My parents have been more than happy to spend time with their grandchildren, and my kids have developed fantastic relationships with their grandparents. And, my parents and I (and my husband) are all closer as a result.

  • meganmatthieson

    Asking is hard. Yes? I’ve been working on a site re-design, and I think I’ll ask a few people to check it out, and share if they will. Thanks for the encouragement!

    • See how easy that was. 🙂 You don’t even have to ask…I’m happy to volunteer!

  • I’ve found that someone you consider to be a good friend may be reluctant to do a favor. But the opposite can also be true: someone you barely know may be more than willing to lend a hand. People can certainly act in surprising ways.

  • “…you can be generous by taking. ”

    I have never thought of it that way, Gretchen. It is soooo true, though. I feel a blog post of my own coming on around that one! 🙂

    Thank you!

  • I was brought up in a home where you *never* asked *anyone* for *anything* – it was independence and self-sufficiency all the way. Possibly because of that, I feel uncomfortable asking for help or favours. But…I absolutely *love it* when people ask *me* for help. (As long as it doesn’t involve caring for children.)

    As I’m writing this, I realize that yesterday I had someone *offer* to help me…and I turned her down. I am reconsidering that right now. (She even said that she needed to feel helpful.) Ack! Thank you so much for this!

  • Paula S

    This is so true, and something I really struggle with. I hate inconveniencing people, so I tend to back off from asking people favours, and then I wonder how come our friendship never deepens!

  • glasgowtremontaine

    I value your perspective, but would find it easier to trust it if you embedded links to these studies (or cited them in other ways), rather than just saying “studies show …”.

  • Marciasheart

    A guy asks for $50 and this makes you think he likes you or considers you a friend? I disagree. Money between people is not the best way to begin a relationship. Favor, advice, ok but money? Forgetaboutit!

    • Rebecca

      Agree with you, I like to give advice suggestion even favor to other, But I hate someone to borrow money.

  • LivewithFlair

    Bravo! I love this post. I think the key to friendship is finding balance and reciprocation. Sometimes it’s hard if one friend is always the “giver.” I want to learn how to recalibrate when my friendships get uneven in this way. I hope I can be more of a giver (and a receiver) with different friendships. Sometimes it’s hard to know what I need.

  • tarasophia

    Love this, Gretchen. Several months I read on Gail Brenner’s blog (A Flourishing Life) the line “Asking for help is a virtue.” I had gotten myself to the “it’s alright to ask for help” idea, but thinking of it as a virtue seemed so powerful, and for all the reasons you describe here, it’s true!

  • ABC

    Great idea! Someone I barely knew from my son’s school asked for my advice on exercise (I was training for a marathon). I was so flattered, and I wound up offering to go for walks or runs with her. In doing so, we became friends. I’ll now have to try asking for more help myself!

  • BerniceWood

    I have been in a tough place recently. Part of that involved me being strong and tough and able to do everything on my own. Well that finally caught up to me in a major way and resulted in a meltdown. Since then I have had to learn to ask for ask in many areas. It has been a humbling, but good experience for me!

    Great advice!


  • Val

    Because we give from strength, I’ve been told, it is nice to be able to help someone.

    I’ve told this to my husband and kids–just ask, especially if it’s just a little thing like a suggestion. People like to be helpful. I like to be helpful.

    This is how I found out how to tell a perfectly ripe watermelon: I asked the woman I saw thumping them, and she showed me how to snap the rind and listen. A gift. I have no idea who she was, but yeah, pretty lucky she taught me that one. –Val

  • This makes me think of the Seinfeld episode in which Keith Hernandez asks Jerry to help him move and he says that it is jumping levels in their relationship and he isn’t ready for that. Ha.

    Now that I am no longer married, I have learned to accept help from others and, yes, alas, ask for help too. There is something difficult about that because it does make you feel a bit vulnerable. But I do agree with you that it can bring you closer. I feel that it is important not to try to be an island.

    I actually included this in my list of twenty lessons that I learned from family and friends, which was inspired by Huffington Post blogger Susan Orlins. It turned out to be a great exercise in appreciation. Your readers might try that as part of their happiness projects.…nds-and-family/

  • With the bizarre exception of asking for help from my spouse, this one comes as a no- brainer to me. I decided pretty early in life that our fetish with independence isn’t healthy; being human is about interdependence. ( could be that my hang-up with hubby stems from his having been raised in a very “your own bootstraps” way, so asking for help from him feels like a weakness). In general I have had an easy time collecting mentors and being one as well. If I get a buzz from feeling benevolent and wise, then surely others do too. A mundane example that I still love to think about and that is outside the mentor/work realm — at a block party it began to rain and our 90 year old neighbor offered to share her umbrella as we walked back to our houses, meaning we actually took 10 times longer to get back inside and got more soaked, but EVERYONE felt happy and kind. There is a book on civility that supports your contention — can’t recall the author at the moment but the book is listed on my website.

  • maryelizak

    I have actually been experiencing a need lately for someone to ask me for my advice or help with something. Anything. I was upset with my boyfriend the other day because he didn’t ask for my opinion on a rather trivial matter, but one which he knows I am knowledgable about. It seems many times my offer to help others isn’t taken. It makes me feel bad, like maybe I am not respected or admired or needed etc.

  • cmclaire

    I totally agree! I often ask my friends for advice and guidance – and anyone else I can too!


  • I love this! I always feel like I’m being a better person by “doing it all” myself….. Looks like its time to reconsider. I love helping other people, so it makes sense that they would also love helping me. Thanks!

  • I took a bad fall outside my house earlier this year. My neighbor was just pulling up into the driveway and saw me on the ground trying to flag down help from passing cars. She was amazing, called 911 for an ambulance, offered support after I was home.

    We’d smiled, waved and made small talk in the past but the whole experience created a kind of opening. I’ve gotten to know her and her boyfriend, enjoyed summer evenings of good food and easy conversation. I’m treasuring them both as neighbors. I just know that wouldn’t have happened with out that fall.

  • AAW

    In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, he mentions how there was a young man in the General Assembly who did not like him one bit. Franklin decided to ask him a favor in order to form a friendship.

    “Having heard that he had in his library a certain very scarce and curious book, I wrote a note to him, expressing my desire of perusing that book, and requesting he would do me the favour of lending it to me for a few days. He sent it immediately, and I return’d it in about a week with another note, expressing strongly my sense of the favour. When we next met in the House, he spoke to me (which he had never done before), and with great civility; and he ever after manifested a readiness to serve me on all occasions, so that we became great friends, and our friendship continued to his death. This is another instance of the truth of an old maxim I had learned, which says, “He that has once done you a kindness will be more ready to do you another, than he whom you yourself have obliged.”

    Isn’t that neat?

  • Allen Loomis

    I think you have a great blog here and was wondering if you would be interested in exchanging links. Please comment back on my blog and let me know!

    Success Demands Action

  • oh… i sooo avoid people who keep asking favors from me.. I never ask for favors from them, and I don’t like to be bothered. “Could you help me fix my computer?” “Could you pick up my daughter for me?” “You’re at Costco? Great, buy me some bottled water!” Hate all the favors. There are people, who totally abuse this. At first, I make excuses, later I start avoiding them. It’s more important to be discrete, and learn to offer to do favors for others, rather than asking for them!!!

  • Dear Gretchen,

    How exciting to encounter your happiness project. I’m excited to explore it and experience and share even greater happiness.

    I know love is generated from the inside out and suspect the same of happiness.

    Yet, as you point out in this great post about receiving, a flow goes in two directions.

    One of the most affirming ways I ask for help is that I call upon my friends when I need support. I know my own core strength, yet I need the love of trusted friends.

    It’s a wonderful feeling to have them in my life and to feel their love and desire to be there for me, as I am for them.

    Here I come happiness project!

    Warmest regards,

  • I completely agree with this article. It is quite amazing how unintuitive ways for forming a friendship can be. Most of us get caught up in a “fight” when we don’t like someone (and the feeling is mutual), which I guess is an ego thing, or perhaps simply a defense mechanism?

    In general, I’ve noticed that it’s hard to make someone like you by giving them something. If someone doesn’t like you, he will at once assume (almost instincvitely) that you are trying to bribe him, and in most cases this will probably make him like you even less.

    What people respond to the best are two things from my experience:

    1. Giving them the chance to help. Basically, giving them the chance to offer something. This gives everyone the feeling that they are respected and appreciated, and since all of us love these feelings, we immediately like that person more.

    2. Showing a person that you are truely sorry (in case you hurt him in some way before, resulting in him not liking you). I actually think that if you, for example, steal something from someone, and then – after a short while – return it to them with an apology, saying that you feel bad about it, this can actually result in the formation of an extremely good friendship.

    Ahh, but I digress a bit I guess 🙂 basically, respect and appreciation are the way to go if you want to make new friends.

    Good read.

  • Oh and by the way, after a while and re-reading this article, I think I have to disagree on one important point in the article. But I’m not sure if it’s really a disagreement, or whether the writer simply meant to write the same thing I have in mind but simply used different words for it.

    I believe it’s not really about asking for favors, as it is asking for someones OPINION that can make them like you. Just showing that person that you can admit to not knowing something, and at the same time admitting that you value his opinion on the matter and would like his help. So basically, the person should not feel that you are asking him to do something instead of you (especially if it’s something that anyone else can do for you). What matters is that the person feels that they are in a UNIQUE position to help you. This gives them a nice tingly feeling of being respected and actually appreciated 🙂

  • Viv

    Not convinced of this one at all; I get asked for favours all the time and get shafted by those who ask(even though I give them)
    Asking for a favour creates a contract between two people; if the relationship is not one of mutual respect and liking, the one asking the favour feels indebted to the other and that creates resentment.
    Maybe I just ought to be more likeable….

  • I feel that I know this intellectually. I know I should ask people for help and that this facilitates a closer connection with others. But I’ve learned to associate failure with asking for help.

    I think this is the trouble that I’ve run into that I’m slowly starting to let go now. I think when people ask me for a favour I do feel honoured (as long as it’s reasonable).

    I once wrote an article about networking and how it’s important to give to people. But it’s not necessary these people are going to give back. Sometimes I think we’re in a culture of giving that we forget to be a culture of asking.
    I’m imagining what the world would be like if we couldn’t ask for help. If we couldn’t ask for help from our teachers, from friends, and new acquaintances.

    It would be a very dreary world. And yes I’m going to keep plugging away…if you are reading this and haven’t bought the book..BUY IT! It’s fantastic.

    Vincent Ng
    Conversation Arts

  • In Benjamin Franklin’s autobiography, he mentions how there was a young man in the General Assembly who did not like him one bit. Franklin decided to ask him a favor in order to form a friendship.

  • Gretchen,

    This is a good tip! Let me ask a favor to check out my blog, when you have a time!

    Although I have never done this intentionally before, it has worked for me, as I am hopeless at direction getting lost and many kind people have helped me find my ways during driving.

  • Jnwfam

    When I was at home with our first child, we lived in a NJ apartment complex. I found it very lonely during the day when everyone else was at work. I noticed one other mom and baby, and wondered how I could make friends with her. I knocked on her door one day, asking if she had change for the washing machine. We ended up talking for hours, and becoming friends. Feeling needed is great!

  • Rebecca

    yes, I have such experience, I once ask for favor from others, and some suggestion about life and career and sometimes one problem in work. I always end up a friend with them ,because they think people will not ask for help unless they take you as a friend or respectful to you.

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