How to be a better friend in 2019

Tips for proving that not all Californians are flaky
Feb 4, 2019 · Muriel Vega
Friends enjoying better health and well-being through social connections
We’re all familiar with the stereotype that Californians are flaky. Perhaps it’s the laid-back lifestyle that keeps us from following through with plans we make, or maybe the stress of being an adult sometimes makes us want to curl up under our covers alone. No matter how tricky or time-consuming setting up social interactions can be, it’s worth going the extra mile to connect with your friends. As human beings, we can’t escape our need for human connection; our brains are hardwired for empathy and friendship, says a recent University of Virginia study
 
If you have at least three friends, you are 96% more likely to be extremely satisfied with your life. Close friends aren’t just good for your emotional well-being. Good, supportive friendships can lower your chances for heart rate variability (the number of heartbeats per minute) and dementia risk. In one study from the University of Michigan, the researchers concluded that your adult friendships can help you live longer.  
 
Both men and women make the maximum number of social connections they’re going to have around the age of 25, according to a recent study. For many, that’s when they acquire many of their lifelong friends, but that doesn’t mean you can’t expand and maintain your friendship circle as you age. Nearly 40 million people live in the state of California right now, and a handful of them are already your close friends. Here are some tools you can use to strengthen those friendships and nurture new ones:
 
  • Take your friendship offline. With constant texting, endless social media apps, and instant messaging, you can easily overlook that you haven’t seen your friend in a while. For example, a recent survey found that only 25% of teenagers spend time outside of school with their friends every day, but 55% check in with their friends via text every day. This can lead to feelings of false connection, making people wonder just why they feel so lonely when they’re connected nearly every moment of every day.

  • Prioritize social connections. Life gets busy. When work is hectic and you’re in desperate need of some self-care, it can be tempting to put off hanging out with the people closest to you. Make an effort to prioritize your close friends and family members; spending quality time with other people can improve your overall well-being and your relationships. Try using your commute to talk on the phone with loved ones who don’t live nearby, and schedule time in your calendar to get together with those who do. “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” said psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive studies of happiness, in his TED Talk. Waldinger also noted that one of the first of three lessons in the study is that “social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well-connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.” 

  • If you need to, trim your friendship tree. As you grow older, your priorities and lifestyle may change and no longer align with those of certain friends. That’s okay, normal, and even healthy. Waldinger recommended focusing on quality, not quantity, when you take a high-level view of your friendship circle. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. Living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective,” Waldinger shared.

  • Be honest. Communication and trust are essential to building strong, long-lasting friendships. In a recent survey, 67% of the young participants valued honesty in their friendships and saw it as an important quality. Another study found that “social interactions in which lies were told were less pleasant and less intimate than those in which no lies were told.” When in doubt, just be honest for a more positive friendship. 

  • If you must cancel, make concrete plans for the future. If you need to cancel plans with a friend, apologize and offer an alternate date. Another option when a common date proves impossible is to incorporate your friend into your routine. Meet each other at a yoga class, work event, or while you clean your apartment. You can quickly catch up and provide support while getting your own to-do list done.
Friendships are vital to your personal growth and wellness. While life gets busy and cancellations happen, prioritizing friendships and nurturing them as they evolve can help you live longer and lead a happier life. Now, send a text to that friend who’s been on your mind and schedule your next hangout session. 

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