Check yes or no.
If someone wanted to be my friend in elementary school, this was the only action needed. As a kid who moved often, I sent and received those notes more times than I can count. Making friends over and over again was a part of life, and I looked forward to accumulating friends just like stamps in my passport.
But in adulthood, with several more relocations under my belt (including three international moves), I’ve not always been so eager to start over. With each new address, I’ve found myself increasingly anxious about forming yet another social network.
No matter how you’ve come to be in a friendship drought in adulthood, you are not alone; sociologist Gerald Mollenhorst of Utrecht University in the Netherlands found that we lose half of our friends every seven years and replace them with new friends. Though it may not seem very fun right now, making new friends is just a fact of life.
If you’re like me pushing “finding friends” to the bottom of your to-do list may seem tempting. However, forming friendships is not only one of the most important pieces to settling into a new place, but also to living a long, happy life.
According to a study on social relationships and mortality, friendships are key to longevity; adults have a 50 percent increased likelihood of survival when they have strong relationships. Having a weak support system or too few friends equates the same risk factor as smoking 15 cigarettes a day or drinking excessive alcohol.
Surrounding yourself with friends isn’t just a component to living longer, but also to living a more fulfilled life. In his book “The 100 Simple Secrets of Happy People: What Scientists Have Learned and How You Can Use It,” David Niven, Ph.D., cites a study in which researchers found that the number of friends you have and the closeness shared between these friendships are two of the five factors that account for 70 percent of your personal happiness.
Living without a solid social network shouldn’t be an option. As someone who has been there before, I can confirm that the longer you go without making connections, the tougher it gets. Here are five rules to help you get started:
1. Make space in your head and your heart
Sometimes, the biggest hurdle is finding the emotional and mental capacity for new friends. It takes effort and commitment, not to mention vulnerability. Try to let go of where you were and accept where you are. Allow yourself to be open to new experiences and new people.
2. Look for interests, not individuals
Identify what you like to do, read, eat, see, and discuss. Those interests, hobbies, and passions are where you are likely to be the most comfortable. Rather than looking for a specific person to befriend, look for social clubs or classes to join, like a book club or a cycling studio.
3. Be consistent
As kids, our days were often filled with activities where we saw the same people regularly, making it easier to build relationships. Try to mimic the patterns of our childhood friendships by meeting regularly. Schedule coffee dates. Sign up for a volunteer shift. Take a class. Get it on the calendar and stick to it.
4. Hedge your bets
The saying “don’t put all your eggs in one basket” holds true when making friends. It can be better to spread your time across a few friendships than to pin all efforts (and hopes) on one. In the long run, quality will reign over quantity, but in the beginning, it’s smarter to diversify.
5. Say yes and mean it
Accept invitations and actually show up. A night out or a dinner party can lead to great discoveries—restaurants, music, hobbies, neighborhoods, and additional friendships.
Finally, remember our childhood friendships didn’t just happen. You were invited to birthday parties. You introduced yourself to the kid sitting next to you. You straight up asked (or were asked) to be friends. Effort was made, chances were taken.
You checked yes back then. Find ways to check yes again.