Research shows social connections not only make you happier, but they can also help improve your health, so you live longer. We know social links are essential to life satisfaction. Still, it’s just as vital to tap into your relationships in real (not virtual) life. Here, I present a complete guide on how to become better friends with someone. You will also find an in-depth look into friendships for introverts.
How often are you on your phone liking an image of a friend’s holiday on Instagram or commenting on a neighbour’s photos on Facebook? You’re staying connected and close to your friends and community, right? Not according to a recent study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine that showed the more time that young people spent on social media sites, the more isolated they actually felt.
No matter how many actual friends you have on social media, these “social” apps seem to have the opposite effect; they promote loneliness. “Social isolation and mental health problems are at epidemic levels among young adults,” says lead study author Brian A. Primack, M.D., PhD, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Research on Media, Technology and Health. His study showed that those who used social media the least, both fewer times per week and shorter amounts of time per visit experienced much less social isolation than their peers.
How to Become Better Friends with Someone
There are several reasons why social media is causing us to drift farther apart. Think of it as a big case of FOMO (fear of missing out), seeing photos of friends partaking in activities you’re not can make you feel left out and alone. Since everyone posting seems to be having way more fun than you are right now, being tied into social media can also make you feel insecure. And there’s the fact that the more time you’re spending sitting alone scrolling through your feed, the fewer opportunities you have to get out and do more in the real world.
So what can you do to connect with your friends on a deeper level? It starts with face-to-face contact or at least making a phone call instead of sending a text. “Faces and voices will never be replaced by memes and GIFs,” says Rachel Oppenheimer, PhD, a clinical psychologist in Plano, Texas, and the owner of Upside Therapy and Evaluation Center. “If you find yourself with only online friendships, push yourself to hang out IRL (in real life).”
Below, are some more ideas on how to stay connected.
Make a Date
Everyone is busy, but getting your calendars together and making a point to meet up with your friends is important, says Sanam Hafeez, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and faculty member at Columbia University Teacher’s College in New York City. Grabbing a coffee, meeting for lunch or simply taking a walk are all great ways to stay in touch and connect.
Be a Good Listener
Having fun is essential, but so is making sure you’re emotionally available to your friends, especially if someone is going through a difficult time. “Feeling supported by another individual can help you to weather the storms of life,” says Susan Goryeb Simms, the author of Journey to Joy: Insights and Actions for a Happier Life. “Validating your emotions is often exactly what is needed to move past difficult circumstances.” The most crucial element of being a good friend?
“Listening without judgement. When you can talk to a friend and know they aren’t judging your parenting, eating habits, children or career choices, you feel supported and free to open up about whatever’s on your mind. When you walk away from a conversation with a good friend, there is a smile on your face,” says Simms.
How to Make Friends and Expand Your Circles
Having different sets of friends is vital for growth and connections. Dealing with a work-related problem often means connecting with friends in your field. Had a spat with your spouse? An old friend is often the best person to turn to.
But making new friends is important, too. People think it is too difficult to make new friends once they are at a certain point in life, but really it’s never too late to forge new connections. If you’ve started taking yoga and really enjoy it, strike up a conversation with someone on the next mat in class, and you might just be surprised at how many things you have in common.
Be Fully Present
When you get together, make your conversations the focal point. “Fully face your friend and be in the moment. Enjoy the time you’re spending together and take time to feel just how important your friendship is,” Oppenheimer says.Mindfulness is also about taking note of the world around you, including your friendships, and taking actions, sometimes without someone asking Click To Tweet
“If your friend’s dad is sick, realise that deep down they are probably feeling sad and scared about this fact, and then take it a step further and let her know that you are there for her,” says Heidi McBain, a marriage and family therapist based in Texas.
Don’t Forget the Small Stuff
Mark your good friends’ birthdays and other vital events, doctors appointments, anniversaries, and awards dinner, in your calendar when you hear about them, advises Simms. “A simple ‘I’m thinking of you’ or ‘good luck at the doctor today’ can go a long way.” If you have the means, send flowers or a small gift on important days. If you’re local, drop off a plant or a meal when your friend isn’t feeling well.
It’s the kind of thing they will remember.
10 Easy Ways to Be a True Companion
- Keep your phone in your bag or in your pocket when you’re together.
- Can’t get together in person? FaceTime or video chat; it’s good to see each other’s smiling faces!
- Set up a monthly coffee, lunch or dinner date, and do your best to keep it.
- Check up on her if she’s under the weather (chicken soup can do wonders).
- Do your best to like his or her significant other. You don’t have to love them as they do, but it’s a lot easier if you can all be in the same room together.
- Send a funny joke, emoji or meme; just because.
- Be empathetic.
- Keep secrets. As tempting as it might be to spread some gossip, if your friend is trusting you to keep your mouth shut, do just that.
- Ask the hard questions, like “how are you really doing?” and don’t just take “fine” for an answer.
- Be supportive. Maybe you disagree with his decision to move in with his girlfriend or her quitting her job. But being a good friend means always being there for them.
Friendships for Introverts
Time for a confession: I’ve often felt envious of those who seem to draw great satisfaction and nourishment from their friendships. I’ve always valued my friendships, but since the complexity and pace of life increased after I became self-employed, I found it increasingly difficult to experience friendship as a source of joy, rather than a “call of duty”. This is exacerbated by the fact that as an introvert, I need time on my own to recharge and relax, which is challenging when much of my day is spent working at home.
With weekends consisting mainly of “family time” and household tasks, keeping friendships going for the last few years has centred around catching up over an evening drink at the pub. We exchange news, have a laugh and occasionally talk about “serious stuff”. We’ve kept our friendships alive, but I’m not convinced we’ve kept them growing. We’ve been tending the lawn and pulling up the weeds, but we’ve not been planting anything new.
I recently realised that I didn’t look forward to those pub meetings and they left me feeling drained. I felt I was meeting up to “do for” rather than to “be with”. I experienced self-imposed pressure and an expectation to “entertain” and provide interesting conversation, a listening ear and comfort if required. Though I genuinely wanted to offer those things, I also experienced this desire as “duty”.
I was so preoccupied with “giving”, it didn’t occur to me that this could also be an opportunity for me to receive. Yet when the emphasis is on conversation, as it is when the only “activity” is sitting across a table from each other, receiving and being responded to generally requires talking about yourself first, which is something I’ve always found difficult.
A Less Artificial Way to Connect
I thought back to the affirming and enjoyable friendships of my student days. We’d lived life, doing things we had to do, like studying, and something we enjoyed doing, like listening to music, and we did them together. And through that living and doing, and whatever conversation came up in the course of it, we got to know each other in a deep and multi-layered way, much of which was practically unspoken. I realised that while I want to see my friends, I don’t actually enjoy seeing them at the pub.
It was a common-sense revelation, when it came, to understand that I could catch up with friends at the same time as undertaking an activity I actually enjoyed. The idea of accompanying and being accompanied felt far more comfortable, and undoubtedly less stressful, than the idea of catching up to “chat”. It also felt less artificial, and more aligned to the ordinary human journey of bringing our unique aloneness alongside that of others, in a way that builds connection.
And so I slowly stopped arranging to see my friends at our favourite pub and instead started inviting them to share a little part of life with me, whether that was a country walk or a concert. I found that this organically transformed my friendships and the way I feel about them: I look forward to seeing friends, and I come away happy and excited. I feel no pressure to “entertain,” as I know that the “environment” can take care of that. Experiencing a variety of different activities together has also opened up all kinds of diverse avenues of conversation and my understanding of my friends has grown beyond whatever happens to be going on in their lives at a particular point in time.
Keeping Both Parties Happy
If you too are seeking more joy in your own friendships, particularly if you’re an introvert like me, I’d encourage you to try this approach. Think about the activities you enjoy, together with your friends’ interests and try to find something that appeals to both parties. For example, I suggested a walk to a friend who likes running, and I invented my guitar playing friend to a concert. Next, I’m planning to invite another friend to a card-making workshop.
Based on the pride she takes in creating a lovely home, I think it’s something that she would enjoy.
When thinking about new ways to hang out, it’s worth thinking about how much conversation you’re in the mood for, given that some activities (like the cinema) leave little room for this. The amount and type of discussion you may have during the interval of a play, for example, is different from the possibilities available during an evening walk. Eventually, broadening out the range of activities you do with each friend allows other stories to unfold. Posters, the internet and mailing lists are all great ways to identify activities.
I’ve joined the mailing lists of local arts festivals, as well as regional theatres. Looking for relevant Facebook groups can provide an excellent source of information.
Once you start to take this approach with friends, they might also do the same; this can be an excellent way to discover a new hobby, so stay open to train new things! However, remember that this is about enjoyment, fulfilment and unpressured companionship; don’t say yes to something that you know you won’t enjoy or will be apprehensive about. Be honest about saying that something is not really “your thing,” and be prepared to hear the same in return.
In the age of social media, you can keep a friendship alive fairly easily. You can keep the lawn tended, and the weeds away, for a lifetime. You may not even notice if and when it starts to cross that indefinable boundary into “acquaintance,” a space where something intimate has been lost. But if you want your friendship to bloom and to produce flowers, then take action and plant flowers.
And then tend them together; indeed quite literally, if that is “your thing”.
Friendships vs Obligations at Christmas
“Can you help me out with the Christmas fair?”; “Have you done your Christmas shopping?” For some people, these questions help to stoke their excitement about the impending festive season. Still, for others, they trigger anxiety, guilt and dread. Between the festivities, annual “obligations”, gift buying and an expectation that we should all be upbeat, we’re often worn out in advance.
So you need to honour and respect your friendships at this time of giving, yet get over the difficulty of saying no. You should protect and nourish your own mindfulness and not feel obligated to do what is expected of you.
If we look at where the bulk of our discomfort springs from, it’s our expectation of ourselves. In our efforts to be a good friend, we burn out due to forgetting our needs and trying to make life live up to the picture we’ve painted in our mind.
For example, even if we adore our friends, it’s not a given that we want to spend our time going to Christmas parties at the pub with them, or accompanying them on endless Christmas shopping trips. Maybe we want to get away, sleep, or simply create some of our own traditions.
Listen to yourself as you consider doing or agreeing to something. If none of your internal chatter is about wanting to do it, it’s a clear sign that you either need to say no or tune in to what you really desire. If you’re saying yes because you’re hoping that “this time things will be different,” then this is a good time to finally cut yourself some slack by accepting people for who they are. Recognising your feelings paves the way for more honest conversations and interactions.
It’s incredible how many things we end up piling ourselves up with, to try to make things look a certain way.
When we can be present in our lives and show up to our friendships authentically, even if it’s not how we envisioned things should be, we actually have more energy to be, do and have the things that matter to us.
I hope you enjoyed my article on how to become better friends with someone and friendships for introverts. If you have any comments, questions or suggestions, please leave them below, and I will get back to you as soon as possible.