When was the last time you caught up with your friends, for a good old chit chat, and some raucous laughter?
If you’re struggling to remember, you wouldn’t be alone. Life is becoming more superficial in the digital age. I recently searched a stock photo site for ‘friendship’, and the results were all pictures of children or social media. Apparently adults don’t have real friends any more!
But real friends are important. Real friends make you feel more alive and help you be true to yourself. Real friends make your soul sing.
So what can you do to improve your friendships? Or to find your tribe, if you don’t yet have this connection?
This article looks at three simple steps that you can take to improve your friendships, and improve your social wellbeing.
What is social wellbeing?
One definition of social wellbeing is “developing a sense of connection, belonging and a well-developed support system”. (M Swarbrick, 2006).
Social wellbeing is not dependent upon having lots of friends, but rather upon having good quality relationships that provide the connection, belonging and support cited above.
Why is social wellbeing important?
There are significant health benefits associated with social wellbeing – including living longer! Research shows that increasing social ties can reduce the risk of death to half that of an isolated person. There is also evidence to show that social wellbeing improves health in cardiovascular disease, high blood pressure, cancer recovery, wound healing and immunity. Read more about the studies into social relationships and health here. Conversely, this article looks at the negative health impacts of loneliness, and its increase in recent times.
Social wellbeing is also closely linked to happiness. This study by Diener and Seligman shows social connection and relationships to be the key factor for happiness.
So how can you improve your social wellbeing and enjoy all these benefits?
How to improve your social wellbeing
1. Improve your social skills
If you want to improve your social wellbeing, you need to develop the skills to communicate and interact well with other people – your social skills. These skills will help you to build and maintain strong relationships.
Goals to help you improve your social skills:
Evaluate your social situation
Which areas are you unhappy with and why? This will help you focus on what you would like to develop.
There is a wealth of information on every topic available online – just make sure you check the source for credibility. And don’t forget to put your research into practice!
Take a course
Check out your local community education classes to see if they offer a course in the area that you’re looking to improve. This has the added bonus that you will meet new people on the course, further improving your social connections.
Look for people who display the traits that you want to develop and observe their behaviour. Are there any common factors? Is this something you can emulate?
Complete a self help book
Self-help books are more focussed and in-depth than researching online, and more flexible than attending a course. I love workbooks, that break things down and provide activities to help you develop new skills.
All new skills take practice. Don’t expect to be perfect straight away. Make time to practise and allow yourself to make mistakes.
Each time you practise, take time to reflect upon what went well and what you struggled with. Think about what you can change for next time.
Resolve any emotional issues
Unresolved emotional issues can often negatively impact on our social wellbeing. Find out more about emotional wellbeing here. Consider therapy or self-help to work through any unresolved emotional issues.
2. Improve current relationships
You can practise your newly improved social skills on your current relationships. This can be any kind of relationship – friends, family, significant other, work colleagues, community groups, the list goes on. Below are some more ideas to help you improve your current relationships.
Make time for friends and family
We lead increasingly busy lives, and it can be hard to fit everything in. It can feel as though we don’t have time to socialise. But, given the health and happiness benefits associated with social connection, can you afford not to? Find advice on how to make time in this article: Make it Happen.
Including 1:1 time
Although I’m a huge advocate of ticking many boxes at once, this doesn’t always work for relationships. It can be a great idea to have a party to enable you to catch up with all your friends, but it’s also important to have one on one time to build deep relationships. This is especially true for close relationships – for me, that’s with my husband and kids. I’m pretty good at ‘family time’, but making time for 1:1 can be challenging when life is busy. I usually try to catch up with my kids while the other is in the bath, and with my husband when the kids are in bed. Make the most of your 1:1 time by ensuring that you discuss any important issues, listen carefully and consider the other person’s point of view.
Spending time with someone while one or both of you is on a device is not building a social connection. Unplug and actively engage with the person you’re with.
Free yourself from other distractions
It is not just devices that can take our attention from our company. As a mum, I found it very difficult to fully participate in social events when my kids were small. Other distractions might include television, books, newspapers or interruptions. It may even be your internal thoughts. Anything that stops you from fully engaging in a conversation can be a distraction.
Find common ground
We tend to like people who are similar to ourselves, so think about what you have in common with your friends. Look for activities that build upon these shared interests.
Or celebrate difference
Be open to sharing experiences that are important to the other person, even if they aren’t your cup of tea. You never know, you might discover a new interest! But if not, you will have shown your friend that they are important to you.
Provide support when needed
Friendships aren’t all about fun. True friends will be there for you when times are tough, and you will be there for them. Take time to nurture the relationship, so you’re able to provide support when needed.
3. Make new friends
There are lots of ways to meet new people and make new friends. Remember all the advice above, and try the ideas below to help you meet new people.
Help a good cause, and make friends at the same time. Look for a cause that interests you, and it’s likely that other volunteers will have similar interests.
Join a community group
There are lots of community groups for people with shared interests – knitting groups, book clubs, mums and babies, walking, food and drink… If there isn’t one that fits your needs, why not start one?
Join a class
Learn a new skill, and make friends. Learn a language, crafting, gardening, cooking, or anything else. Again, there’s the bonus that you already have a shared interest with the other participants.
Join a sports team
Improve your fitness, and make friends. If team sports aren’t your thing, what about fitness classes, yoga, walking or running groups?
Get a job
Most people get a job because they need the money. But it’s an important factor in making friends. I’ve made most of my friends through school or work. If your work is isolated, look for business networking opportunities to meet new people.
Make friends online
This one is a little controversial, given the negative impact that technology can have on social connection. However, it does also provide the opportunity to socialise with people with similar interests. Especially if none of your friends share a particular interest, or there are no community groups near you. There are online communities or Facebook groups for every conceivable group, making it easier than ever to ‘find your tribe’. Don’t forget the GoalGetters community! Just make sure that you balance your online presence with real life social connection. I’ve seen many cases where online groups have developed into real life friendships.
Reconnect with old friends
If you’ve lost touch with good friends because life got busy, why not try to reconnect? Don’t be afraid to reach out. But don’t get too invested in the outcome until it happens – there may have been a reason that you lost touch in the first place! Usually it is just busyness, and changing priorities. One of my best friendships included a period of 4-5 years where we were out of touch. If I hadn’t reconnected, I would have missed out on many more years of fun and laughter.
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