Do you feel like you used to have more friends? As if you wouldn’t know where to turn in the case of a disaster or illness? Well, you’re not alone. Reuters recently released a study that indicates Americans on the whole are more socially isolated than we were 20 years ago. So much more isolated, in fact, that nearly a quarter of the people surveyed said they had “zero” close friends with whom they could share personal matters!
A large majority (more than 50%) counted trusted confidants as two or fewer and cited immediate family most of the time. Compare that with 1985, when the majority of people reported having three, four or five people with whom they shared interests and information, which it begs the question of where have they gone wrong?
According to researchers, combining longer commutes with longer work days and longer amounts of time spent single is the culprit. After a hard week at work, many of us find there’s little time or energy for socializing, and based on the fact that so many of us remain single well into our thirties, the social networks that do exist are fewer and farther between. People lose touch with just about everyone (except family) and oftentimes, do the bulk of communicating online, which, as one researcher pointed out, is not the same as forging in-person friendship bonds. Consider that there’s a big difference between IMing about last night’s must-see TV and asking someone if they can do you a major favor like offering you a place to stay in the case of a disaster like Hurricane Katrina or 9/11… or even solace after a major heartbreak.
Luckily, if you’re one of the millions who find yourself friend-deficient and disconnected, you can turn things around. After all, no one is an island, and the following tips will help to ensure that you don’t feel like you’re floating alone:
Make time for friends you do have
I know, I know, the whole problem is that you’re busy… but it’s not. Not really anyway. Consider the time that you spend watching TV after work or sleeping in until the last minute when you have to leave the house for work. Part of the problem may be that you convince yourself you’re always busy when oftentimes you’re just vegetating… which only adds to that all alone feeling most of the time. While you do need time to recuperate with just you, your couch, and maybe even your remote control, try to mix it up on a regular basis.
Instead of hitting snooze six times every morning, get up early three mornings and go for a coffee or head to the gym – with a buddy. Make a point that once a week you have dinner (out or in) with a friend or two. A “friend’s night out” can be super successful, even if it’s not always the same people in attendance (everyone has to skip a week now and then). You can even expand your circle exponentially if everyone invites a new friend now and again. If once a week feels too ambitious, make it every second or third week… the point is, make it! If you don’t put in the time, you can’t expect to reap the rewards and really… do you really have to work until 8pm every night?
Keep in touch… really
Ah, you’ve heard the words often and probably even uttered them yourself, sometimes knowing that the intention would probably fall by the wayside when pitted against practicality. But if you make a point to keep in touch with people you meet and connect with, your circle of friends will expand. Whether it’s at work-related events or via random conversations at Starbucks, we all bump into people we like on occasion. Start making something of those times and you’ll find you’ve made a new friend.
Likewise, see the previous suggestion. Keeping in touch with the people who have meant the most to you in your life is a key component. Even if it’s been months – or years – since you last spoke to your once best friend, send a card or shoot an email. While the Internet may be a culprit in distancing ourselves from each other, in its best form, it allows us to connect – and reconnect -instantly and with ease.
Be nice… even if you don’t have time
Sometimes it feels like an effort to be nice to the people you encounter in passing on a day to day basis, I know… but it never goes unnoticed. Even if it’s just a smile and a hello, the more you acknowledge the people you pass on this planet, the more connected to it you’re going to feel. Does this mean each of these individuals is going to become your best friend? Of course not, but you will start to experience a different state of being as you start to respect (and appreciate) the people around you (yes, even those who drive you crazy)! And before you tell yourself you don’t have the time to be nice know this: it takes more time and energy to be nasty – and it creates more distance between you and the world with which you’re trying to connect.
Find a hobby… and commit to it!
Okay, so here we are again, I can hear you already: “As if I have the time for one more thing in my life!” But while you may be low on quantity when it comes to spare time, consider the quality of the time you’ve filled up. Wouldn’t you be much happier actually enjoying some of it doing something you’re passionate about? Whether it’s exercising, wine tasting, knitting, chess or anything else for that matter, do it – now! Not only will you meet potential friends in the course of the activity (note: if it’s reading or any other solitary activity, join a club with other members who enjoy the same thing), but you’ll foster a connection with yourself, which is the first step to not feeling alone, even when you are.
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