Updated: Dec 15, 2022
Friendships have a huge impact on your mental health and happiness. Good friends relieve stress, provide comfort and joy, and prevent loneliness and isolation. Developing close friendships can also have a powerful impact on your physical health. Lack of social connection may pose as much of a risk as smoking, drinking too much, or leading a sedentary lifestyle. Friends are even tied to longevity. One Swedish study found that, along with physical activity, maintaining a rich network of friends can add significant years to your life. As a result of all this, it is important that you create and sustain meaningful friendships and relationships.
What to look for in a friend?
A friend is someone you trust and with whom you share a deep level of understanding and communication wtih. A good friend will:
Show a genuine interest in what’s going on in your life, what you have to say, and how you think and feel.
Accept you for who you are.
Listen to you attentively without judging you, without telling you how to think or feel, or trying to change the subject.
Feel comfortable sharing things about themselves with you.
Where to find new friends?
When looking to meet new people, try to open yourself up to new experiences. Not everything you try will lead to success, but you can always learn from the experience and hopefully have some fun.
Volunteering can be a great way to help others while also meeting new people. Volunteering also gives you the opportunity to regularly practice and develop your social skills.
Take a class or join a club to meet people with common interests, such as a book group, dinner club, or sports team. Websites such as Meetup.com can help you find local groups (or start your own) and connect with others who share similar interests.
Connect with your alumni association. Many colleges have alumni associations that meet regularly. You already have the college experience in common; bringing up old times makes for an easy conversation starter. Some associations also sponsor community service events or workshops where you can meet more people.
Walk a dog. Dog owners often stop and chat while their dogs sniff or play with each other. If dog ownership isn’t right for you, volunteer to walk dogs from a shelter or a local rescue group.
Attend art gallery openings, book readings, lectures, music recitals, or other community events where you can meet people with similar interests. Check with your library or local paper for events near you.
Behave like someone new to the area. Even if you’ve lived in the same place all your life, take the time to re-explore your neighborhood attractions. New arrivals to any town or city tend to visit these places first—and they’re often keen to meet new people and establish friendships, too.
Cheer on your team. Going to a bar/restaurant alone can seem intimidating, but if you support a sports team, find out where other fans go to watch the games. You automatically have a shared interest—your team—which makes it natural to start up a conversation.
How to sustain that friendship?
1) Create and capitalize on time together.
Life gets in the way and you both can get busy, however it is important to find time to spend together. So, at the very least, check in with your friend when you can: agree on weekly phone dates; text them here and there to let them know you’re thinking of them; and if possible, schedule some time to simply hang out!
2) Be honest with each other.
Another key to strengthening your friendships is being open and honest with your friends. “When conflict arises in healthy relationships, both people are able to listen intently to each other as they express the way they feel,” says Psychotherapist Dena Alalfey. You need to be able to express how you feel—even those negative feelings like disappointment and discomfort even with them—so as to keep that bond from weakening. If you instead keep those feelings bottled up, you’re likely to foster some ill will towards your friends, and your relationships will suffer. So instead of brushing how you feel under the rug, confront your emotions openly. Then, you can work out the issue together, which in the end can create a stronger bond.
3) Show them that you care.
If you hope to create strong, lasting friendships, you should continue to show your friend that you care about them. This doesn’t require you to take drastic measures, but simply find ways to express your love and appreciation for the other person: treat them to pizza on their birthday; tag them in cheesy memes on Facebook; and bluntly tell them that your friendship means the world to you. You might assume that they already know you care for them, but even if they do, it’s always nice to be reminded.
4) Embark on new experiences together.
Licensed Psychologist Dr. Wyatt Fisher says, “an essential ingredient to a strong relationship is having fun with the person.” Relationships are strengthened by meaningful experiences and unforgettable memories. So make the effort to spice up your friendships by embarking on new adventures side-by-side: sign up for an intimidating exercise or cooking class together; plan a trip to a new town or even new country; or simply switch up your typical weekend outings. This variation will revive your friendships and create an even stronger bond.
5) Provide support and encouragement.
Friendships aren’t all fun and games—they do require you to put in some work, such as when your friend is having a horrible, no-good day. For example, they’ve just broken up with their boyfriend or girlfriend or were fired from their job. It’s your job to be there for them and provide them with whatever they need, starting with support and comfort. Additionally, it’s your duty to give them encouragement as needed. Encourage them to do what you know will make them happy, like taking that job or moving to a new city. Whatever the case, make it apparent that you’re rooting for them.
6) Treasure the little things.
Real, strong friendships aren’t extravagant—they’re built simply on connectedness, kindness, and love for each other. That being said, it’s important you remember to embrace and rejoice in the little things. Appreciate those phone dates, discussed earlier. Enjoy every second you get to spend with them, even if you’re simply meeting for coffee. Treasure every little piece of your friendship—the extraordinary love, the undying support, and the irreplaceable memories.
Source: Taylor Bennett, Thriveworks, “How to Create and Maintain Strong Friendships: 6 Tips,” https://thriveworks.com/blog/create-maintain-strong-friendships/ Help Guide, “Making Good Friends,” https://www.helpguide.org/articles/relationships-communication/making-good-friends.htm