Nurturing friendships

How to maintain and enrich our bonds in a busy world
Have you ever put off a catch-up lunch or phone call with a good friend? Maybe a work meeting came up. Or your dog needed a trip to the vet. After all, friendships don’t provide a paycheck or carry parental duties. There’s no contract, as with marriage. The obligations we feel to our friends are often not as urgent. With friends, we have “the freedom to be independent and the freedom to be dependent,” said William Rawlins, Stocker Professor Emeritus at Ohio University, in an article on friendship in The Atlantic.

The best way to have a good friend is to be one. We tend to attract people with similar qualities and values. Nurturing healthy friendships involves give-and-take. Sometimes you’re the one giving support. Other times you’re on the receiving end. Letting friends know you care about and appreciate them can help strengthen your bond.

Research shows that friendship’s benefits merit attention. Having good friends is key to our happiness and self-confidence. And our longevity. A study of 5th and 6th graders found that cortisol levels were lower and self-worth higher if a friend was with them when a negative event occurred. Australian researchers found that good friendships were more strongly connected to the lifespan of older adults than the company of children or other relatives.

It’s time to put the care and feeding of friendships on the front burner. We all want to keep good friends over the years. To do that we have to invest time in the relationship, according to one long-term study. (Similarities between friends also predicted the length of the relationship.)

Learn more about each other. “Push yourself to ask questions that are not intrusive but are a little personal,” psychologist Andrea Bonior told Women’s Health. “You have to reveal something about yourself, too.” Bonior is the author of The Friendship Fix.

Remember, it’s never too late to develop a friendship. Making new friends and strengthening existing friendships can pay off in better health and a brighter outlook for years to come.

“Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.” – Helen Keller

Tips for being a good friend

Through good times and bad, it can be helpful to remember that friendships, like gardens, need tending. Here are some tips from the Mayo Clinic on nurturing your friendships:

  • Be kind. This kindergarten lesson is just as useful for adult friendships.
  • Listen. Pay attention to your friends’ stories; offer validation and support, but not unsolicited advice.
  • Open up. Share your own experience – allowing a friend into your world will deepen your connection with them.
  • Be trustworthy. Keep your commitments; keep your friends’ confidences to yourself.
  • Make time. Build in dates with friends (new and old) and check in with them in between.

Source: Mayo Clinic

Six ways to feel less lonely (and maybe make a friend)

When we make friendly connections, we decrease loneliness and increase our sense of belonging. And we may even make a new friend to add to our circle. Here are some tips from Women’s Health on making new friends or building casual acquaintanceships into friendships.

  1. Quality over quantity: Talk with one new or old friend on the phone or over lunch instead of spending time scrolling your followers on social media.
  2. Tap an acquaintance: Think about people you already know, and strike up a conversation (in person, via text, or over social media) about something you have in common. If they seem receptive, ask a mildly personal question, share an anecdote, or invite them to have coffee.
  3. Take a small risk: Look for a part of yourself that you can risk sharing. Try a group activity around a common interest, like baking or reading, or take a class like creative writing or learning a language, where the students interact through the work.
  4. Go beyond social media: Look for places where people are talking about topics you’re interested in and join the conversation.
  5. Assume people like you: When a friend cancels dinner, it really is about their own limitations, not yours. Reschedule. (But if you notice this friend has a habit of canceling, maybe rethink your investment in that friendship.)
  6. Value your own friendship: If you are offering your time, kindness, and thoughtfulness as a friend to others, notice how wonderful that is. You are creating meaningful connections and adding to a sense of joy.

Source: Women’s Health

The three levels of friendship

Think about your circle of friends. Are those relationships as close and active as you’d like them to be? The Atlantic outlines three levels of friendship. Use these to help identify the relationships ripe for moving from one category to the next.

Active friends: You speak or write frequently, and you would be comfortable contacting them if you need help. You are probably friends on social media, but you text them directly on their birthday (or send a card). Your partners know one another.

Dormant friends: Someone you have some history with, like friends from college or a former workplace, but you haven’t been in regular touch, even though you keep meaning to call or email. You wish them happy birthday on social media. If you’re looking to expand your circle of active friends, this is the easiest pool to draw from.

Commemorative friends: Someone you may have known well at one time, but you don’t expect to hear from, like someone from elementary or middle school. Social media is full of these friends – you might feel a fond nostalgia about them, and you might “like” some of their posts, but you don’t feel you need to know more than what they offer online.

Source: The Atlantic

Six ways to build closer friendships

The folks at Welldoing note that, while you may be surrounded by people, you may feel a lack of connectedness. That’s why nurturing new friendships is an investment just like exercise, health, work, and family. Here are six ways to build closer friendships:

  1. Having a few good friends is better than a flock of social media followers. So, scale back on the Tweets and spend more time on the phone or video calls, or in-person if you feel comfortable doing so.
  2. Put yourself out there and be vulnerable. Vulnerability is a key way to share and connect with a friend.
  3. Show persistence, especially with a new friend. The Internet can be a helpful communication tool here, breaking geographical barriers and widening the net for finding those with shared interests, passions, and quirks.
  4. Assume that most people are nice and relatable. Rarely does someone have the perfect life; it’s the imperfections that make us closer.
  5. Don’t take it personally if a new friend cancels on you at the last minute. If it happens repeatedly, that’s a different message.
  6. Remember that you have a lot to give: Your sense of humor, thoughtfulness, generosity, or even your weird-but-cool taste in music.

Source: Welldoing

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