A large number of studies have shown that an increasing number of people have reported feeling lonely and isolated. And believe it or not this is actually a huge problem. Almost half of all Americans report feeling alone and this can negatively impact not only your mental health by increasing your risk for depression, but also your physical health.
People who are extremely lonely are actually at a huge health risk on the same level as smoking 15 packs of cigarettes a day. You have a higher chance of heart problems, having a stroke, or even getting cancer. And that's not including the day-to-day problems of increased irritability, poorer sleep, and loss of appetite.
The obvious answer to solving loneliness would be to make friends. But it's not enough to have friends around, you need to have meaningful friendships. And once you have those friendships you also need to maintain them. So by the time you're done reading this, you should have a good idea of all of these concepts.
Let's start from the beginning, how does a person make friends?
The first simple answer is to find people with whom you share a common interest. But this can become difficult as an individual becomes older. It's a natural consequence of losing time due to adult responsibilities, a reduced social circle and fewer people to organically interact with, as well as less time to indulge in your favorite hobbies.
So first, figure out what your hobbies and interests are. In fact, why not also go figure out what kind of things you've always wanted to get yourself into. This is a good starting point because from here you can find like-minded people and determine where they congregate. By doing this you allow yourself to naturally join these people in a friendly environment. Plus, researchers say that meeting other people face-to-face is the best way to combat loneliness.
Research has also shown that simply having similar interests is enough to get someone to warm up to you. One experiment simply divided up two groups of participants by colored flags and found that participants on average acted more favorably towards individuals with the same flag color as themselves.
Taking this a step further let's say you're an avid reader. You can start by looking for local book clubs, meet-ups, and other functions. If you've always wanted to get into better shape look to see if anyone is looking for running partners. If you have a pet dog, walk around and get to know your the dogs of your neighbors or visit a dog park.
By finding a group of individuals like this you give yourself many more opportunities for potential friendships. And some people will find themselves more comfortable in group settings. That way all the attention isn't solely on a single individual and allows you to interact with a greater variety of people too.
Of course, going out and meeting new people could be too big of a step. Social anxiety is another prevalent and prominent mental health issue. For readers who are too shy or currently don't have the courage to socialize in the real world don't worry. You have the luxury of the Internet and the vast number of communities out there. No matter what your interests are, there is a group waiting for you to join them.
Move at your own pace, and when you feel comfortable with yourself and being around others you can then take the next step to making friends in the real world. Remember, all that matters is that you are improving your situation one step at a time.
But there's another reason why I'm asking you to find people who share similar interests with you as opposed to randomly approaching strangers. The answer is twofold: First, by having a common interest you are better equipped to interact with other people and bond with them. But secondly, it's not enough to have a friendship with someone, in order to effectively combat loneliness you need to have a meaningful friendship.
A lot of people think that by just surrounding themselves with people will be enough to combat the feelings of isolation but this could not be further from the truth. In reality, doing such actions could actually worsen the feelings of loneliness.
The problem is that if you fail to have some kind of personal connection with the friends you are trying to make the benefits that you will receive will be short-term at best. Having a mutual interest might seem shallow at first, but it's a good entry point into trying to get to know the other person better.
Assuming that you like everything so far about any particular person, your next step is for both of you to get to know one another better. You goal here is to gain the other person's trust which is the basis of any meaningful friendship.
Initially, you may want to try and see if your newfound friend has any other hobbies or interests that align with your own. If you're lucky, this will not only give you additional opportunities to bond with them, but also increase your own social circles and develop other friendships there as well.
When you're getting to know someone your natural response will be to ask questions. The problem is that you need to ask the right questions and in the right way.
First, keep in mind the kinds of questions you're asking. Your goal is to ask a question that makes the other person feel comfortable with giving you more information and help to maintain a conversation. An example of a bad question is one that can be answered with a simple yes or no.
Many people like using yes or no questions because of how easy they are to use. But these types of questions are bad at helping build a friendship for multiple reasons. The main reason it gives a very limited amount of information. A yes or no response does not give the personal or intimate details that are required for a healthy bond. It also makes it more difficult for the person responding to naturally give further details to their answer.
For example, the question "Did you have a good weekend?" is a bad. There is no indication that you are interested in their response beyond a surface level and maintaining the conversation is less likely.
A better question to ask would be "What did you do this weekend?" or "Where did you go this weekend?" Simply changing a few words opens up a myriad of options and allows your friend to give multiple answers, which allows you to learn more about them and ask more questions.
People naturally gravitate towards good listeners and those that take an active interest in their life. And so the best kind of question is to ask something more personal based on previously gathered information. For example, your friend Bob might like Italian food. So for him, asking a question like "Did you try that new Italian restaurant that opened up?" would be excellent. Bob will be flattered that you remembered a personal detail about him (causing him to like you more), he will feel inclined to talk about the new Italian restaurant, and as he's talking you'll have a chance to learn further details about Bob.
Of course, this is a more difficult kind of question to ask! It takes time, effort, and memorization to know what makes each of your friends tick and know when and where is the best time to ask these kinds of questions. But doing so is worth it, because when you are able to easily ask someone a more complex question you know that you have a much deeper friendship with them.
Don't worry too much about the content of what you're asking. People won't always remember what you say, but they will remember how you made them feel. And most people like it when someone else takes the time and effort to remember little personal details.
So, congratulations. You have a friend, a decent, maybe even a good friend. But now is the most critical part of any good friendship, maintaining it.
Let's first examine why friendships fall apart. I want you to imagine your friendship to be like a muscle. If you have quality exercise frequently and take care of yourself you would expect that your muscles to be in good shape. Likewise, neglecting exercise will result in muscle atrophy.
Your friendships are no different. In order to maintain them you must consistently put in quality time and effort with your friends. This is another reason why it is imperative that you find as many commonalities between the two of you. The more activities you can do together or topics you can discuss, the greater the chance that you will have additional meaningful interactions.
This of course is not going to be easy, but it is a necessary component of maintaining the friendship that you have worked so hard to attain. You will have to balance not only your own schedule, but your friend's schedule. As well as planning for activities. Of course, I would assume that your friend also values your friendship so hopefully they'll be able to suggest activities for the two of you as well!
Sometimes it may not be realistic or feasible to consistently meet up in-person. Fortunately we live in an unparalleled age of communication. While it may not be as intimate, sending a text, having semi-regular phone calls, or even e-mails can be very beneficial in letting someone know that you're thinking about them.
Before we end, I'd like to leave you with a few final notes that you might find helpful when it comes to forming new friendships:
First, don't be discouraged if you don't immediately succeed. You can do your absolute best but some people just might not be interested. In this situation you're better off moving on and finding someone else who would better appreciate your time and efforts.
Also remember that friendships should not be one-sided. If you feel that you are constantly putting in the effort to maintain a friendship you may want to discuss this and find a way to split the load. On the other hand, make sure that you are actively contributing to your friendship otherwise your friend may feel undervalued and be less inclined to interact with you in the future.
You may also want to keep in mind the kinds of friendships that you value. Some people prefer to have a handful of very close friends whereas others may prefer having a massive group of acquaintances. No matter what your preference is, knowing what you want from a friendship and setting expectations will go a long way in getting what you want.
So let's recap. The easiest way to get friends is to find people with common interests. People like individuals who are like them or have similar hobbies. Through this you are now able to have more meaningful interactions and bond with other members of your desired group.
From there, it is your job to bond and gain the trust of your new friends. Get to know them better, find out if they have any other mutual hobbies and interests, and finding meaningful ways to interact outside of your initial group. Remember, the more things you can do together, the more likely you are able to spend time and learn about them.
Finally, once you have a solid friendship you need to maintain it. By this point you should have a solid idea of what you and your friends enjoy doing together. Using this knowledge, carve out time in your busy schedules so that you can keep your friendship strong and enjoy each other's company.
Again, don't be discouraged if things don't always work out. And if you find yourself drifting away, go the extra distance and contact old friends. You'd be surprised how often they were thinking about you. So don't be afraid to reach you, someone might really appreciate it.
Remember, loneliness is a real epidemic that is affecting millions of people worldwide. And by having meaningful friendships you are not only keeping your mental health in check, but you may also be helping someone else's too.