8 Tips for Making Friends.

Every Wednesday is Tip Day.
This Wednesday: eight tips for making new friends.

Last week, I posted a list How to make friends — or at least think about it more clearly. That list sets forth the "essential friendship skills."

But knowing the essential friendship skills isn't the same thing as being able to make friends. And friends are very important to happiness. The more I've studied happiness, in fact, the more convinced I've become that loneliness is a very common and very serious challenge to happiness. I think it's a subject that deserves more attention.

Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: strong social ties are a key — arguably the key — to happiness. You need close, long-term relationships; you need to be able to confide in others; you need to belong; you need to get and give support. Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter you’re far more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.”

Not only does having strong relationships make it far more likely that you take joy in life, but studies show that it also lengthens life (incredibly, even more than stopping smoking), boosts immunity, and cuts the risk of depression.

But making friends can be difficult. Here are some strategies to try, if you’re eager to make friends but finding it tough:

1. Show up. Just as Woody Allen said that “Eighty percent of success is showing up,” a big part of friendship is showing up. Whenever you have the chance to see other people, take it. Go to the party. Stop by someone’s desk. Make the effort. I'm a big believer in the power of online tools like Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to help sustain relationships, but nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting.

Also, the mere exposure effect describes the fact that repeated exposure makes you like someone better – and makes that person like you better, too. You’re much more likely to become friends with someone if you see him or her often. I’ve seen this happen over and over in my life. I’ve become close to unlikely people, just because circumstances put us in constant contact.

2. Join a group. Being part of a natural group, where you have common interests and are brought together automatically, is the easiest way to make friends: starting a new job, taking a class, having a baby, joining a congregation, or moving to a new neighborhood are great opportunities to join a group. If those situations aren’t an option, try to find a different group to join. Get a dog, for example. Or pursue a hobby more seriously. An added advantage to making friends through a group is that you'll have something obvious in common with these new acquaintances, and you can strengthen your friendships to several people at once — very helpful if you don't have a lot of free time. Which is important, because for many people, lack of time is a real obstacle to making and sustaining friendships.

3. Form a group. If you can’t find an existing group to join, start a group based around something that interests you. My children's literature reading groups – (yes, now I’ve helped start three of these groups) are among the top joys of my life. Studies show that each common interest between people boosts the chances of a lasting relationship, and also brings about a 2% increase in life satisfaction, but I’m confident that my kidlit groups have given me a lift in life satisfaction much higher than two percent. Movies, wine, cheese, pets, marathon-training, a language, a worthy cause…I know people in all these sorts of groups. You can start a Happiness Project group! (If you want the starter kit, to help launching a group, email me at gretchenrubin1 at gretchenrubin dot com.)

4. Say nice things about other people. It’s a kind way to behave; also, studies show that because of the psychological phenomenon of spontaneous trait transference, people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you ascribe to other people. So if you tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, unconsciously Jean associates that quality with you. On the other hand, if you say that Pat is hilarious, you’ll be linked to that quality.

5. Set a target. This strategy sounds very calculating, but it has really worked for me. When I enter a situation where I meet a new set of people, I set myself the goal of making three new friends. This seems artificial, but somehow, this shift makes me behave differently, it makes me more open to people, it prompts me to make the effort to say more than a perfunctory hello.

6. Make an effort to smile. Big surprise, studies show that the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct effect on how friendly you’re perceived to be. In fact, people who can’t smile due to facial paralysis have trouble with relationships. I've been working hard on this myself lately; I've become more solemn over the years, or at least more distracted and tightly wound.

7. Make friends with friends-of-friends. “Triadic closure” is the term for the fact that people tend to befriend the friends of their friends. So friends-of-friends is an excellent place to start if you’re trying to expand your circle.

8. Be aware of cultural differences. On last week's post, a commenter noted that now that she lived in the United States, she missed the kind of easy, drop-by-your-house friendships that she'd had in Australia. She just didn't seem able to make those close friends. But I suspect that friendship intensity isn't the problem, just cultural practice. At least in Kansas City and New York City, the places I know best, even a very close friend wouldn't be likely to drop by your house unannounced — no matter how those crazy kids behaved on the TV show Friends. So try to be aware of how friendship signals may be different in different places.

What other strategies have you used to help build friendship? And what challenges have you faced? The ones I hear the most are 1) lack of time and 2) new place with no network to draw upon. What about you?

* Yesterday, I tried ineffectually to describe to a friend the brilliance of TV Tropes. It's hard to explain, you just have to check it out yourself. It can also be a little hard to navigate, but stick with it — it's worth it. For example, start with Characters or Fate and Prophecy, and dig in.

* "Ah, if only I had a Page-a-Day calendar of The Happiness Project book and blog," you may have wistfully thought to yourself, "then I would be happy." Well, guess what! Your dream has come true. Now for sale: the 2012 Page-a-Day calendar of The Happiness Project. Get them while they're still hot off the presses. Buy links and sample pages here.

  • http://mwfseekingbff.com Rachel @ MWF Seeking BFF

    I write a blog (and have an upcoming book) about this very topic. Making friends as an adult can be so tough, and so awkward. But it’s so important! Your tip about showing up is key. Back when I was wondering where all my friends were, it hit me that I kept turning down invitations because I thought they were just courtesies, and I didn’t have any friends to go to said barbecues (or some such gathering) with. Now I’ve learned that saying yes and attending is the first step. No one is going to come find me while I’m watching Drop Dead Diva on my couch.

    I also think setting a target is a great practice. When I go somewhere new, I make it a goal to find at least one potential friend that I will “ask out.” It helps, and gives me a bit of purpose when I’m navigating a social situation where I don’t know anyone. 

    • Liane

      Yes! Show up! My first reaction to any event invitation is to think “No, there will be too many people there” or “No, I don’t feel like it” or other excuses. Just do it! You’ll have a lot more fun and have new experiences.

      • gretchenrubin

        It’s hard to make the push to get there…I sometimes remind myself that I don’t have to stay long. Usually, I’m happy to stay, but knowing that I don’t require it of myself makes it easier.

        _____

  • http://www.happinessbeacon.com/you-are-what-comes-out-of-your-mouth-t10.html Gec

    #4 is my favorite. But I think it goes even deeper. I think others project onto us what traits we project onto others because WE HAVE those traits. In other words, whatever you say, you are it. People are just noticing that, not making groundless projections.

    Yes, I maintain that you are what comes out of your mouth. (as well as what goes into your mouth…)

  • Eliese58

    Last week I wrote about my sewing group and why I think it works so well for us.  You’ve echoed many of my thoughts!

  • a.r.

    While many of these tips are spot-on, I found the “get a dog” advice in #2 “Join a Group”, a little discomfitting. 

    Animal companionship is wonderful and having a pet does open up doors for meeting new people. However, one shouldn’t simply get a pet JUST to seek out and/or make new friends.

    Perhaps volunteer at an animal shelter! GREAT way to be around and care for pets a bit, and also, meet like-minded people. :-)

  • chefswife

    LLike that kidlit group idea right up my alley.

  • Peninith1

    I am reassured to see other people posting here that they have to overcome a certain amount of inertia to make sure that they get out and socialize. It tells me that I am not uniquely resistant to getting out of my comfort zone (my own house!) and out into a social setting.  Also, I am one of those people for whom ‘the phone weighs a thousand pounds’ until I actually pick it up. Resistance is very heavy, and yet human contact is light! I guess it would be a good resolution on my part to accept and attend at least 50% of the things I’m invited to do, as well as to make a much higher percentage of the phone calls I think of but then don’t carry out because of that ‘heavy’ phone! Thank you once again for your reminder to ‘show up’ and ‘set goals’.

  • CB

    Well, maybe you need to move to the Pacific Northwest. We drop in on our friends often(usually with someone new in tow) and easy get togethers happen spontaneously. That’s one reason why I never moved away. I guess it’s the casual way we are.

    • gretchenrubin

      Good example of how different places have different practices, even within the same country (or even state, probably), so important to know what the custom is where you live.

      _____

  • Wende Garrison

    Gretchen, I love this post!  I always love it when you talk about friendship like it has to be worked at, since that is my experience and it makes me feel better to hear YOU say it.  :)  So thanks!

    But re:  TV Tropes…I have tried, each time you recommend it to like it.  I find it boring and totally not engaging, flat.  Perhaps if you could describe what you like about it, how it makes you feel, etc.  Maybe then I would understand…?  :)  (I am trying!  You give such great advice always!  :)

    • gretchenrubin

      I know, the TV Tropes site can be difficult to penetrate. But I think it’s hilarious, and very thought-provoking, and quite profound, to see all these tropes laid bare.

      Just to pick an example that many people know, here’s the entry for the first Harry Potter book:
      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/HarryPotter/Ptitlexgrkh7ma?from=HarryP otter.HarryPotterAndThePhilosophersStone

      I just looooove seeing these tropes laid bare. I mean, look at it!

      Or here’s Star Wars, if you’re not a Harry Potter fan:

      http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ANewHope

      _____

      • bibi

        omg, TVtropes!!! beware, though, of its time-eating abilities. (i usually start with my current favourite show and then i’m off …)

        as for your recommendations: i’m a firm believer in 1-4. and for an INTP, i can throw a kick-ass party as a result of them :-)

    • Zyada

      A generalization of what Gretchen recommends – pick a movie, tv series or novel that’s both a great favorite and a pop culture standard and search for that first.  It will give you a good idea as to what different tropes mean before you start digging in.

      Also check out the “laconic” link at the top if there is one. 

      Or you can search on a subject that is near and dear to your heart, like clothing: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/ImpracticallyFancyOutfit

  • http://www.thejackb.com/ The JackB

    I am lucky enough to have friends who can drop in unannounced just as we can do with them. It is really contingent upon the relationship.

  • Jackie Mullin

    I laughed out loud at your being more distracted and tightly wound!  I can totally relate.  But, I do know that making an effort to smile really does make a difference.  I was shopping at my local farmers market and I stopped to talk to someone that I hadn’t seen in a while and the first thing they commented on was that I always had a smile for them!  They also added that I seem to never change.  It was nice to hear that my smile was noticed and that my wrinkles weren’t as obvious to them! 

  • http://www.faithpermeatinglife.com Jessica @ FaithPermeatingLife

    I’m a big believer in the notion of “show up.” Part of my Happiness Project this year has been improving relationships, so one of my resolutions was to “Say yes to social events.” I’ve found that often I’m one of the few who makes the effort to show up to certain things, so my relationships are strengthened between me and the host(s) simply by the contrast between me and the friends who didn’t bother showing up.I recently wrote a post about the difficulty of making friends after college. Part of what I’ve learned is to reframe, to escape from this notion that I need a big group of friends to go out with on the weekends. Many of my needs (like what you described here) are met by family, coworkers, and long-distance friends.

    • gretchenrubin

      A good additional point would be to realize how friendships change over time. In college, say, friendships look one way, but at another time of life, very different.

      _____

  • Susanzheng815

    I totally resonate with your points. On the one hand, I often declined others’ invitation to go out.  I have the “heavy” phone issue too. On the other hand, I whine about no friends. Introvert is always my excuse in order to stay within my comfort zone.  I guess showing up is the way. Setting goals will prompt me to have to go out.  Thanks again for the points, right down to the heart of the matter.

    • gretchenrubin

      The comfort zone — this is a tough thing. On the one hand, it’s good to push your comfort zone. On the other hand, it’s hard to stick with a plan that’s just uncomfortable. Once again, as with all things happiness, seems like it comes back to “Know thyself” and figuring out ways to accept yourself, and expect more of yourself.

      _____

  • Ashepherd2

    Gretchen, I just sent you an e-mail.  Hope you find it amidst  all the others.   Your posts on relationships are always so valuable.  Thank you.

    Ann Shepherd

    • gretchenrubin

      just answered you! good luck!

      _____

  • Kakemo

    I am so happy to hear that there is a Page-a-Day calendar of The Happiness Project book.  I just went on B&N website and reserved two copies (one for me and one for my husband) to pick up at our local store tomorrow.   This increased my happiness tonight and I can just imagine how it will increase my happiness on a daily basis once I get it!  Thank you.

    • gretchenrubin

      I so appreciate your enthusiasm! I hope you and your husband enjoy it.

      _____

  • http://twitter.com/21tigermike Michael A. Robson

    Two words: house parties.

  • http://www.kimkircher.com Kim Kircher

    I love that tidbit about spontaneous trait transference. Maybe if I talk about how organized and creative everyone else is, it will rub off on me!

  • Dineke

    I am sure that these tips are also applicable to helping children make friends. But not all apply easily to my daughter’s nine-year-old reality. Do you know of any articles with tips for children?
    I am hoping to help improve my daughter’s happiness…

    • gretchenrubin

      A great book on this subject is Michael Thompson’s BEST FRIENDS, WORST ENEMIES: UNDERSTAND THE SOCIAL LIVES OF CHILDREN. It is really terrific.

      _____

  • Huiek

    Are you talking about friends or acquaintances? To me, they are two very different things.  I think you’re really talking about making acquaintances, not real friends.

    • gretchenrubin

      Excellent point! From acquaintances we make friends. And even if you’re not close friends, it’s pleasant to be friendly with someone.

      _____

  • Hollys

    I love this post! I am curious though…is it possible to have more friends than you have time for? There are so many opportunities that I turn down because of schedules and time constraints.

    • gretchenrubin

      Oh yes, I think this is a very big problem for a lot of people. Important to think about how to make choices and set things up to try to keep friendships strong.

      _____

  • MyPeaceOfFood

    Thank you for this; you’ve given me more encouragement to join a group that’s meeting this Monday…wish me luck!

  • Peninith1

    p.s. Gretchen . . . I lifted that 1,000 pound phone and have some friends coming for dinner in a week whom I have wanted to invite for a long time. This is your circle of influence at work. Thanks again!

    • gretchenrubin

      Have fun!

      _____

  • Kathy

    I have lived in 4 locations in the last 13 years, and now that I’m not working and older, it is so much harder to make friends…I am thankful for emailing and social sites to keep in touch with people, but will take to heart some of your suggestions.

    • Cindy

      I just sent my last child to college, and my husband and myself just moved 10 hours away to another state.  I thought it would be great, but I am finding it’s harder to make connections without being involved daily in your children’s lives.  It’s definitely taking a little more effort!

  • http://www.changingfaces.org.uk Alison

    Great points here but may I just correct you on point 6 when you say that “In fact, people who can’t smile due to facial paralysis have trouble with relationships”.  because this certainly is not the case for everyone who has facial paralysis as I know from personal experience!  People with facial paralysis or indeed any other disfigurement which affects the eyes, nose or mouth will often use their voice or body language to indicate pleasure, happiness or interest in another person.  People with unusual faces or limited movement in their face can actually become the most accomplished communicators because they are used to going that extra mile to put people at ease in their presence and we are definitely capable of sustaining very fulfilling relationships.  Do take a look at the fabulous work carried out by Changing Faces here in the UK (shameless plug for my workplace) as we spend a lot of time working with people with unusual faces to build their self-confidence, their self-esteem and their communication skills to overcome the extra challenges they may face in making friends.     

  • http://nomorefrump.blogspot.com Annie P.

    It seems to me that the most simple way of making friends is just by being kind, and being authentically who you are. 

    It reminds me of dating. I wouldn’t want a man to take me to a 4 star restaurant if he could never ever take me there again. Be honest about who you are, and the people who really want to be your friends will be your friends. 

    Friendships do evolve, like any other relationship, and take work. Respect is also key, as well as trust. If someone suddenly feels like you’ve broken their trust, they will not respect you as much. 

  • http://rovicsoph.mindzoom.hop.clickbank.net Will

    Gretchen,

    It is funny that I came across this posting. It really resonates with me at the moment. I recently went through a divorce and while I was married I let a lot of my friendships go as I focused on my family, we have five kids. After the divorce I realized that almost all of the friends that we interacted with were hers. The last year I have been wondering why I have been so blue. After reading your post I am almost positive it is my lack of meaningful interaction with others. I have been on forums and what not but while I got good advice it was still very impersonal.

    I think I am going to follow you tips. I am going to “show up”. I am going to call and try to reengage with some of my old friends I have not seen in years. I will even try to smile more. I have felt that I lost that but I will try even if it is just for a moment until I can get my smile back full time. I look forward to reading more of your posts.

    Thank you

  • gnobis

    Wow, what a great post with insight that is really practical and helpful!  I just moved from my home town, where I have grown up and my kids have been growing up.  Everything was comfortable and easy there, great friendships for me and my kids, family close…and then my husband had the hair-brained idea to go to law school:)  and now we are 2000 miles away from that home, practically on a different planet as far as my kids are concerned!  You are right about all of the advice in this post, and I am printing it for my fridge to remind myself of these 8 points.  Thanks for your project.  It has contributed to my happiness for the last 2 1/2 years!

    • truebluematch.com

      Relocating adds additional challenges to making good friends! 

  • Christine

    Friendship IS so critical to our happiness!  People think that friendships can be put on the back burner but the truth is they need to be given TLC to grow and thrive.  When we do give them the attention they deserve we benefit so greatly.
    Finding great friends as an adult is always a bit tricky.  I remember wishing I could borrow the phrase from my then 3 year old, “Want to be friends?!”  You give wonderful , concrete and unique advice here.   Many will benefit from your wise words.
    We share a passion for wanting to spread the word about the power of friendship.  I hope to have the chance to meet you at The Massachusetts Conference for Women in December.

  • http://departfromthetext.blogspot.com Margot

    For better or worse, I’ve caught myself using my kids to make new friends lately.  My girls are cute and interesting.  I’ve introduced myself to a few moms through my kids and, while they aren’t close friends, it feel good to have a nice conversation and relate to someone in similar shoes.

    And largest challenge?  We moved to a new suburban neighborhood and I’ve found it very hard to get to know my neighbors.  People aren’t outside much and when they are they appear very busy.  I’m thinking of walking around the neighborhood this holiday season just to spread warm tidings (and maybe cookies) as a way to introduce myself.  I’m worried that will come off as creepy, but I’m not sure what else to do.

  • apol

    Thanks for this Gretchen. I have been in a friendship funk for the past few months. I left my finance job to stay home with the kids…most of my social life went out the window along with my job. Some past friendships faded for one reason or another and I found myself very alone. The moms at my kid’s school are all from the same neighborhood and have a well established bond. To add to my pity party, I am an introvert by nature. When I do get invited to a social event where I do not know ppl well, I either neglect to go, or suffer through anxiety the whole time. Eventually I will stop getting invites due to not “showing up.” I am volunteering at my daughter’s school (for her), and I do have a strong relationship with my husband and family, thank God. What to do?

    • JFT

      I have the same situation. I homeschool two of my children. I don’t exactly click with the homeschool support group. I find myself being judgemental.

  • Kat

    I love this topic. Just yesterday I was telling someone how challenging it is to make friends as a woman in her 40s with no children and no career – where most women make friends. My two closest friends, then, are out of state friends from high school. After years of resistance, I had to join FB just to keep communication with them. And I used to think email was impersonal… Yet I only have myself to blame because the phone seems heavy for me too!

    Living in a neighborhood where the average age is 67 adds to the issue. Although I don’t require my friends to have something in common with me (I am open) I do feel most like to have something in common. Job, children’s school, tennis, etc.Gretchen, perhaps you could address the opposing issue? My friends with children and/or busy careers do not seem to have the time to nurture friendships. I have grown weary of suggesting we get together for lunch (while the children are in school) and making dates only to have them broken or forgotten. It can be frustrating and somewhat lonely when friends don’t seem to value your friendship. What if they tend to call when they need you during some crisis but are nowhere to be found during the day to day? Eliminating the emotional vampires is good, but what if that leaves you with no friends? haha! A simple get together for coffee and girl talk would be nice now and then.What to do when your friends won’t follow through because they say they are so busy? Would love some ideas!

  • http://www.men2hire.co.uk/ Male Escort

    I am kind of spontaneous when it comes to making friends. If someone has not become my friend after 2 days of spending time together, he/she is never meant to be my friend. However, there are people, who became my close friends within an hour after meeting. So i think it depends person to person!!!

  • kham

    “just show up” can be interpreted another way… someone who i thought was becoming a good friend has failed to show up…. as a friend… many times. he ignores my messages for weeks sometimes and when he does call back, there are just lame excuses (work, life, etc… yeah, for weeks or months? we ALL deal with these things, buddy) and i feel miffed about his lack of effort to nurture the friendship. i’ve certainly made the effort, putting out invites to do things. now i’m at the point where i don’t care all that much about meeting up, so i rarely call, and when he does call me (maybe once every month or two), i’m indifferent about getting together. but i do get out anyway. strange how he pushes a friendship onto the back burner just because he got a girlfriend, or had some extra work to do for a few weeks. i mean… what’s a few hours every now and then. i don’t expect much. just looking for a friend to hang with occasionally. it’s tough to do when you’re in your 40’s and single, though.

  • naoma

    Had a couple of “dismal” experiences in trying to make two new friends. One I met and she decided I was just the person to discuss her “romantic relationship” with. I did and my advice was “only she could make the decision to break off the relationship.” She wrote me a terrible letter that I could barely read. She did not like my “advice.” Next one I met at a Scrabble Club and she was eager to have lunch with me. Met and I paid for lunch. She became “terribly offended” that I paid and at the next Scrabble meeting she did not even speak to me. Thus, I quit trying to “make new friends.”

  • Erinsbee

    Oh my, I can be in a room with 20 of hubsters family’s for two hours, and not one person will acknowledge my presence. I would rather be hated than ignored, for if they hated me at least I would have to exist. My sil just put up a Facebook quote about how happiness is a choice, and I believe it is in response to my post about being ignored above. We were at her house yesterday, and she being the hostess never even tried to engage me in conversation. I have a mild traumatic brain injury and I am finding for the past few months I don’t put myself in certin situations any more. I have lived in this state 15 yrs, after moving from paradise to here, and I thought we would get together with family more often. I tried inviting all my sil’s, mil, when I first moved here to shop etc…but noooo too busy. Broke my hip, laid up for 8 weeks, only once did any of them come by…never called, they all just came the SAME day ONCE. Now with my concussion, , I sat in that house for three hours yesterday and not be person asked how I was. They were all cncerenced about so and so, and so and so. As I got up to leave because one daughter had sore throat, and other worked 18 hrs the day before so was very tired, my fil decided he could talk to me now….he didn’t have to narrate the basketball game any longer…and he said, ” you look really good, good color.”, can’t remember what else…I said, “yeah I have my good days and my bad days, today is a bad day” he acted shocked, like I should be all better…so I whispered in his ear,,,”I have a mild traumatic brain injury” he acted shocked….
    Does nt my husband

  • monkey3369

    for over 10 years I used to “show up” to many different events and places. I smiled alot! I was interactive. Heck, I began to even talk to people I would see over and over again. However, most of all these interactions were at dance clubs/ bars. But, when I asked if any of my “bar friends” wanted to hang out outside the bar, I was shot down 100% of the time. These ppl were not bar flies. They had careers and other groups they belonged to. I was not desperate acting or aloof. I was me, happy and out going. But, again, no one wanted to hang out with me. I’m still friendless to this day.Granted, I have many cyber friends. But, that does not take the place of face to face contact. I am so very lonely…

    The other problem is I work every fri and sat nights when ppl like to go out. I will never be off that shift due to lack of seniority. Or rather it will take me at least 3-4 years to get onto another shift. I don’t know what to do. I can’t quit my job. And the ppl I work with have nothing in common with me. I know because I do talk to them.

  • Claire

    I often get nervous before picking up the phone to call friends for a long “catch up,” so I’ve developed a technique: before the call, I write down a couple things I want to talk to them about. This calms me, and helps prevent awkward silences.

  • Kamile Ko

    For example all of my best friends were made in a music club or at bar :) why? Just because the atmosphere is so good there that you can relax enough to address person even if you don’t know him :) In almost all of these places- klubai I acquainted people :)) And I will continue to do it