One thing is clear: a major key to happiness – in fact, the major key – is having close relationships with other people. We need close, long-term relationships, we need to be able to confide in others, we need to belong, we enjoy activities more when we’re with other people. This is true not just of extraverts, but of introverts, as well.
In fact, people who claim to have at least five friends with whom they can discuss important problems are 60% more likely to describe themselves as “very happy.”
Unfortunately, a study published by the American Sociological Review in 2006 shows the average American has only two close friends, and almost a quarter of Americans have no friend in whom they can confide – a number that has doubled in the last two decades. (On the good side, family ties are strengthening.)
One of my main areas of concentration for the happiness project has been to try to stay closer to my friends and to make more friends.
One strategy I’ve adopted for making more friends may sound a little cold-blooded and calculating, but it has really worked for me.
I set myself a friend TARGET GOAL.
When I enter a situation where I’m meeting new people, I set myself the goal of making three new friends. So, for example, when the Little Girl starts pre-school in September, and I’m meeting a lot of new parents, I’ll be looking for my three friends.
I know it sounds artificial, but I’ve been trying this approach for a few years, and it works well. It changes my attitude from, “Do I like you? Do you like me? Do we have time to talk?” to “Are you someone who will be one of my three friends?” Somehow, this slight shift makes me behave differently, it makes me more open to people, it prompts me to make the effort to go beyond everyday chit-chat.
Because I feel busy and sometimes overwhelmed, I have a tendency to say to myself, “I don’t have time to meet new people or make new friends.” But that’s not true. I do have time, and making a new friend is tremendously energizing, not enervating.
Not all such friends have turned into close friends. Some I never see outside the context in which I first met them. But still, I feel like there’s a stronger connection between us – perhaps wholly one-sided, true, but still real.
And I know I’ve made more closer friends than I otherwise would have done.
I’ve also realized that “being friends” means different things in different stages in of life. In college, I spent hours each day with my friends. These days I don’t spend nearly that much time with the Big Man. That’s okay.
Productivity 501 has a great post about what to do when people come to your office to distract you. Lots of easy, practical, not-rude suggestions: take notes, talk to them while you’re standing up, don’t have a visitor’s chair, etc.
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