My backyard is one of my favorite places. It backs up to a lovely neighborhood park lined with trees and trails. Anytime I’m in the backyard just after daybreak or right before dusk I usually see the same older woman walking on the sidewalk that borders the park. It’s not a brisk walk, but certainly more than a stroll. She always wears a knee-length dress, her white hair mostly in place, and hands clasped behind her back. My partner often remarks “there goes our lady”.
I ponder his comment “our lady” and think how this stranger has brought about a feeling of connection. I want to walk out of my back gate and meet this woman who inspires me from a distance. I want to know her story, and why she walks alone. What is her name, and how does she stay so steadfast in her daily routine? Something about her perseverance to take this walk with such regularity makes me admire her and want to know more, and perhaps become friends.
It reminds me that the need to connect is a strong and powerful force. Time and time again scholarly journals have reported that people live longer and report being happier when they have dependable supportive people in their lives. Blue Zones author, Dan Buettner, found in his research that social connection, quality of friendships, knowing your neighbors, and how well you get along with colleagues all account for lowering mortality risk by about 45 percent. This percentage is even higher than the results of eating a good diet and exercising. Other studies show that a strong social support system also helps to reduce anxiety and increase self-esteem.
But, it doesn’t take a bunch of researchers to tell us that having friends makes us feel better. Of course it’s important to have positive and supportive friends. This is what many refer to as finding your “tribe”, which refers to people who share commonalities, similar values, or possess admired traits.
Some find it challenging to develop meaningful friendships beyond the friends they made in school or college. Life gets busy with family and social life can take a back seat to daily obligations. As you get older, you may need a new tribe, and need to be more deliberate in how you seek out new friendships, according to Marisa Franco, PhD, a psychologist who specializes in friendship.
"The people who are the best at making friends come into new situations with the assumption that they'll be accepted and liked, and that's what really facilitates them reaching out to others," Franco stated. So, if you feel that your self-esteem needs a boost, take time to focus on the positive aspects that make you a desirable friend. Write them down and remind yourself when needed.
One easy way to forge new friendships is to seek out people who have common hobbies and interests as you. Nowadays, there are many “meet-up” groups on just about any activity or topic you can imagine. One rule of thumb is to attend at least two or three of the meet-up group events to give yourself a fair chance of sparking a connection.
Take some initiative to keep the contact going. Be the first to reach out and extend an invitation to an activity. There may be a few awkward moments, but those moments tend to wane quickly if you try to engage in meaningful conversation that is a bit more personal without being intrusive. It may be more comfortable to start a new friendship with a group activity rather than one to one. Meeting friends of established friends is a great way to increase your friend group.
Whether you're developing new friendships or maintaining established friendships, both need time and attention. Since both of these are often in short supply with our busy lifestyles, it's necessary to be intentional about making and preserving friendships. The quality of your life will be the better for it!
By Angela Schaack, LCSW
Blue Zones: https://www.bluezones.com/articles/
Women’s Health: How to Make Friends as an Adult, by Lindsay Geller https://www.womenshealthmag.com/life/a28800305/how-to-make-friends-as-an-adult/
Wanderlust Journal: How to Find Your Tribe, by Amanda Kohr https://wanderlust.com/journal/how-to-find-your-tribe/