Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: strong relationships are a key—perhaps the key—to a happy life.
But one of the most common challenges of adulthood is making and maintaining friendships. Friendships take time and energy, which can be in short supply, and it can be hard to meet new people if you move to a new city or a new job.
As you consider ways to connect, there’s one important principle to keep in mind: Lower the bar!
Many people think, “Well, if I can’t do ____, it’s not worth doing anything.” No. Small gestures can do a lot.
Frequent contact, even fleeting, is better than infrequent contact. Call, or if you don’t want to call, send an email. If you don’t want to send an email, send a text. If you don’t want to write a text, send a photo with a few words, such as “thought of you” “can you believe it?” “last year at this time.” Whenever I see someone mentioned in the press, or I come across an old photo of them in my phone, or I see an article that I think would interest them, I send a text. It’s very effective to let the world remind you to get in touch with a friend.
Also, some contact, even infrequent contact, is better than no contact. Having a 90-minute dinner with a friend I haven’t seen in two years is enough to re-ignite our friendship.
Sometimes we feel uncomfortable reaching out: “This person will think I’m weird for getting in touch after we haven’t talked for nearly two years.”
In fact, research shows, we underestimate how much people will welcome attempts to reconnect. Humans are social creatures; we value connection; we appreciate people’s efforts; and we feel good when we know that someone is interested in us.
Here are some ideas to start or strengthen a friendship:
- Text a friend you haven’t been in touch with recently
- Email a former co-worker to ask how they’re doing
- Write a postcard
- Write a “This article/book/TV show made me think of you” note
- Express gratitude to someone
- Buy a surprise small gift for someone in your life
- Do a good deed for someone in your life—set up a blind date, make a useful introduction, lend a hand
- Make a list of three friends you want to connect with
- Make a list of three acquaintances you’d like to have a deeper relationship with
- Set up an “errand date” with a friend or neighbor
- Use a regular activity—walking, gardening, laundry—as time to catch up over the phone
- Send a care package
- Search today’s date in your phone’s camera app and share a memory with a friend
- Ask someone for a book/TV show/podcast recommendation
- Schedule regular times to catch up with friends—put it on the calendar
- Choose an activity to do with a friend—take up a hobby, watch a TV show, read a book
- Send a fun photo or update to a long-distance friend
- Tell someone your favorite joke
- Give someone a warm hello or goodbye
- If there’s an activity you do regularly—go to the gym, take your dog to the dog park, go to the office—try to do it at the same time every day, so you see the same people; it can be a great way to make friends
- Take a few minutes to chat with a neighbor or co-worker
- Follow someone’s recommendation, and tell them your response—a co-worker recommends a movie, so you watch it and tell that person what you thought
I recently wrote down all the people I’ve been meaning to get in touch with. I plan to work my way down the list.
Make a habit of staying connected with the Happier app
- Take a photo on your weekly coffee date with the Photo Log
- Check off each week you call or email a friend with Don’t Break the Chain
- Schedule weekly catch-ups with Accountability Partners
- Reflect on your daily interactions with colleagues with the One-Sentence Journal
Click here to download the Happier™ app.
I love aphorisms, and among my favorites are William Blake’s “Proverbs of Hell” from The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. He writes: “The bird a nest, the spider a web, man friendship.” Humans are among the most social creatures on the planet. We thrive on connection.
Or to put it another way, when I was in kindergarten, we sang a song with the line, “Make new friends, but keep the old. One is silver, the other is gold.” Friendships are a vital part of a happy life, so it’s worth our effort and energy to keep them strong.