You already know the components of a healthy, happy lifestyle: Making smart food choices, getting plenty of rest, reducing stress, and being more active. But there’s one other thing you might consider adding to that good-for-you list: meaningful friendships.
Sure, our pals make life more fun, but the benefits of friendship go far beyond the good times. Multiple studies have shown that strong social ties not only lift your spirits, they can also help boost your immune system, protect your memory, and could even add years to your life. OK, so maybe you didn’t need a scientist to underline the value of a good friend, but if you’re like us, you’ve found it’s sometimes difficult to make new friends as an adult. Here are a few ways to help, plus a tip or two that might strengthen your current friendships.
Learn to enjoy your own company. Spending time alone may seem counterintuitive when you’re trying to meet new people, but putting yourself in places where it’s easy to strike up a conversation with a stranger can open the door to a new connection. Sure it might feel a bit awkward at first, but try grabbing dinner alone at the bar of your favorite restaurant, or sit with a cup of joe at your neighborhood coffee shop. Chances are others will be dining solo too, and they’ll be more than happy to chat. Who knows, you could be sitting next to your new best friend.
Envision the type of friends you want to have. Want to hang with somebody who’s into fitness? Sign up for yoga class and introduce yourself to the person next to you while you’re setting up your mats. Looking to find a pal who shares your ambition? Join a local professional association that hosts mixers for new members. Whatever kind of friendship you’re seeking, the key is to think about what qualities or common interest your ideal friends would have to help you zero in on the best matches.
Draw from your current contacts. If you’re moving to a new area, a good way to meet local friends is to reach out to the ones you already have. Facebook is the perfect place to cast a wide net by simply posting, “If you know someone in _____ city who you think I’d hit it off with, let me know.” Emily Kate Warren, a Los Angeles–based makeup artist says, “I’ve moved several times in the past few years, and Facebook has been a great way to connect with people in new cities. I always take up the friend date offers. They don’t always pan out, but they certainly help!” Just like Warren, make sure to follow up on every lead you get. Not every recommendation will end up being your BFF, but chances are you’ll at least make a new buddy or two.
Go online. Many singles have dabbled in online dating. Why not take the same approach to looking for friends as you would for a partner? More networking sites than ever are dedicated to helping people meet new friends. Membership-based sites, such as companiontree.com or match.com, help you connect with people in your area. Or try a free site, like girlfriendsocial.com, which is specifically geared toward women looking for new female friendships.
Say yes to every invite. Sometimes it’s hard to know exactly where you’ll fit in. Saying yes to every invite helps you figure out which social circles are a good match for you. Amina Bob, a receptionist in New York City, remembers the lonely feelings she had as both the new kid in high school and again when she went off to college. “I was homesick during both transitions, but I made efforts to expose myself to all kinds of people,” she says. “I accepted every party invite and went to as many campus events as I could until I’d found people I enjoyed hanging out with.” If you’ve been missing the comfort of a close friend, don’t wait for the phone to ring. Initiate a call or e-mail the next time you enjoy a conversation you’ve had with someone new.
Give your buddies a break. Unless a friend is a repeat offender, try not to take it personally if he’s late, cancels plans at the last minute, or forgets about something that’s important to you. Give him the benefit of the doubt and chalk these minor offenses up to him having a bad day or being overwhelmed with demands at home or work. In fact, speak up and ask if he needs a hand or a shoulder to lean on.
Widen your circle. Don’t limit your pool to longtime pals. Mingling with a diverse group also keeps you more plugged in to current cultural trends, other viewpoints, and new ways of looking at the world. “The best friends I’ve made as an adult were my neighbors,” says Warren. “I’ll often make a point to introduce myself and offer help if they need it.” So how do you find these new connections? Try Warren’s approach and introduce yourself to your neighbors, or ask a co-worker to have lunch, seek out volunteer opportunities, or sign up for a committee at work or school, or elsewhere in your town. Look for common ground with those you’re in contact with day to day and use that as your entry to forge new bonds.