Think of good friends as a tool – not unlike diet and exercise, really – to promote mental and physical health. You can’t measure the benefits directly, but the ripple effect of strong social connections improves heart health, brain function, even your immune system.
What if you’re perfectly happy with just a few friends? That’s okay, just be sure those are mutually valuable connections. Research suggests a lack of strong relationships can increase your risk of premature death from all causes.
Where Did All the Friendships Go?
If it seems hard to make new friends as the years pass, your feeling tracks with what the research shows. A study from researchers in Finland and the UK found that age 25 is when people have the most social connections. Things get less rosy from there:
Women lose friends more quickly than men.
In their late 30s, men end up with fewer friends than women.
Work and family responsibilities edge out friendships over time.
Couples that split up can struggle to find new, non-shared friends.
Those are just a handful of findings from one study, but the research and expert views are consistent: It often gets harder to make or keep friends as we age. People move, care for children or aging parents, find new hobbies, fall on hard times. These things separate us from old friends; some create a barrier to forging new relationships.
How to Make New Friends
When it comes to making new friends as an adult, extraverts have the advantage. Relationship experts offer a lot of advice that could make an introvert wince. For example:
If someone stands out in your memory from an event or gathering, ask a mutual friend for a reintroduction.
Take the initiative to reach out. You may need to do this several times to learn whether the interest is mutual.
The good news is, there are countless ways to put yourself out there and not feel (too) uncomfortable, regardless of whether you thrive on solitude or socialization.
Look for groups in person or online that focus on an interest or hobby.
Volunteer at a hospital, museum or charity to find like-minded people.
Say yes to invitations (even when you’d rather stay home in your slippers).
Take a fitness class or an academic course to meet others with this shared interest.
Take regular walks and sooner or later, you’ll meet neighbors doing the same.
These strategies won’t guarantee lifelong friendships, but they create opportunities that at least make new friendships possible. Give them all a try and you might soon enough find yourself with more people to lean on when times are tough, and to celebrate with when times are grand.
By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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