In fact, according to Harvard’s famous longevity study that spanned over 80 years, it wasn’t good genes, or physical fitness, or cholesterol levels that predicted long life…
The defining factor in a happy, longer life was how satisfied people were in their relationships.
So if you’re not being the best friend you could be, this article’s for you. With the help of friendship expert Adam Smiley, author of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness, we analyzed friendships deep down.
Check out our video here:
The Surprising Science of Friendships
Here’s a hard truth: Not all friendships are created equal.
Studies point out that friendships = happiness, but ONLY if those friends were “best friend” or “close friend” status.
In other words, having 500 acquaintances and other surface-level relationships doesn’t make us happy.
Sound familiar? (I’m looking at you, social media.) This is where the big problem comes in:
We are lonely.
Loneliness is the discrepancy between one’s desired level of connection and actual level of connection.
In fact, a recent Harvard survey found that 36% of respondents said they feel seriously lonely. And perhaps even more shocking is that half of lonely young adults reported that no one in the preceding few weeks had “taken more than just a few minutes” to ask how they were doing in a way that made them feel like the person “genuinely cared.”
We are facing a serious loneliness crisis, and the only way to stop it is to become a better friend.
This is especially important because loneliness doesn’t have a look.
Well, in most cases…
Here’s my solution to loneliness: Become a good friend. Not just a good friend… a great friend.
The world needs good friends right now. Not plastic, fake “Let’s hang next Saturday!” friends who never call. Not those friends who are happy and smiley, but when you ask them a favor, they’re nowhere to be found.
The solution to loneliness is to become a good friend.
Let’s take a closer look at what makes a good friend…
What Are the 3 Qualities of a Good Friend?
According to Shasta Nelson, author of The Business of Friendship, the most important qualities of a good friend are vulnerability, consistency, and positivity.
And you might be thinking, “Only 3 qualities? There must be more, right?”
Yes! There are hundreds of positive traits we might look for in a friend:
- similarity to us
- knowing how to cook a gnarly lasagna
… But these 3 traits are skills we can ALL learn and improve over time.
Let’s take a closer look:
Vulnerability is the ability to open up, be honest, and admit your feelings and mistakes to others. Surface-level friends actively refrain from being vulnerable—perhaps they aren’t ready to because they’re afraid of rejection. But real friends show their vulnerabilities, which allows them to bond with their closest friends.
So how do you feel more comfortable being vulnerable?
Start with your loneliness gap:
On a scale of 1 to 5, rate how much connection you need, with 1 being the least and 5 being the most.
Are you OK:
- being totally alone for days on end without human interaction?
- talking to your spouse/family/dog without need for other connection?
- socializing with friends once a week?
- needing to go out and socialize a few times a week?
- having constant, deep social interaction every day?
Now, rate yourself at what level of human connection you ACTUALLY have.
The difference is your loneliness gap. Recognizing your loneliness gap is the first step to being vulnerable with yourself.
Consistency in friendships is all about being dependable. Your friends know they can rely on you, and you know you’ll be there if they ask for help. Consistent friends are honest and don’t suddenly shift personalities when you hang out with a different group. They’re loyal and constantly check up on the friends they care most about.
To become more consistent, you need a friendship plan.
Create a visual system. Smiley recommended printing out a map and labeling your friends’ locations.
Write the date you last talked (you can use sticky notes to track it) so you can visualize when it’s time to talk again.
You can also put a number next to your friends’ names, depending on your level of friendship with them:
- Level ones are acquaintances and people you know on a surface level.
- Level two friends are good friends or those you keep in touch with regularly.
- Level three friends are close friends whom you’d be able to discuss deep, personal things with.
I find a friendship map is great for helping me remember to connect with others. Post it above your desk as a reminder to reach out when you have a few free minutes.
Being a positive friend means making your friends happy, especially during tough times. Telling funny jokes, making light of a bad situation, or being supportive are all aspects of being a positive friend. Positive friends encourage their friends to follow their dreams and goals. They are not dream killers, but rather dream builders.
So how do you become positive?
Be the sheriff of good times.
Sheriffs make sure things are in order.
Sheriffs of good times are the ones who make sure others have someone they can count on.
To be a good friend, become a sheriff of good times:
- Check up on others to see if they are in a good mood.
- Go up to that person sitting alone and ask if they’re doing OK.
- Buy someone a coffee.
- Write down your favorite quote or positive affirmation on paper and give it to someone.
- Introduce yourself to people in your neighborhood.
Notice how we’re focusing on strangers, too? That’s because positivity is more like a mindset than something you just switch “on” and “off.”
Science shows kindness spreads! If you spread kindness to others, the effect will multiply.
Pick up the phone, call them, send a text message, send a friendly email, write them a letter to let them know you care about them. Do something positive, and your friends will notice.
10 Unique Tips to Be a Good Friend
Want some more ACTIONABLE tips to be a good friend?
Over the years, I’ve learned friendships are like a job.
You’ve got to put in work to become a good friend. But the payoff is totally worth it.
Here’s how to become a better friend:
Are you tired of the same old “let’s have dinner” meetup?
Time to spice things up.
I want you to redesign your typical activities and think outside the box:
- host a hot pot or fondue party
- have a taco night
- take a cooking class
- do a picnic
- eat international cuisine
- have a vegan lunch
- bring your pets over
- host a cooking-with-kids activity
… And if they suggest yet another dinner outing, try taking the initiative to do something fun: “Hey! That sounds amazing. I was planning on having a taco night. Want to come over instead?”
Remember the Dates
What special days do you want to celebrate with your friends? Get creative here:
- their birthday
- your friend-iversary
- their wedding anniversary
- the kids’ birthdays
- their favorite holiday
- a holiday you love to celebrate together
Great friends keep track of special days. They don’t memorize them—there are WAY too many important dates to remember. However, they do track them.
Here’s what you can do:
- Download a to-do app or simply use your reminder app on your phone.
- Brainstorm a list of all your friends’ special days. It could be a birthday, the day you first met, a special party or event you attended, or a milestone date like a graduation or wedding.
- Set the annual reminder. Make sure it’s a recurring event which notifies you annually a day or two before the big event.
- Celebrate! Pop open the champagne, pick a fun activity to do together, invite them to a great networking event, or simply send them a celebratory message.
You might be surprised how people really appreciate this. You might even be one of a few people to say “Happy Birthday” to someone, so use this power wisely!
Utilize The Mere-Exposure Effect
The more you see someone, the more you’ll like them.
This is the mere-exposure effect, popularized by social psychologist Robert Zajonc. Interestingly, Zajonc found that all organisms initially have a fear/avoidance response to new stimuli. However, as the new stimuli is introduced again and again, fear reduces and interest increases.
The mere-exposure effect explains why we’re afraid of making new friends in the first place but perfectly comfortable in the presence of our close friends.
So no—you’re NOT completely weird for disliking strangers. It’s just natural.
However, there’s a way to optimize meeting people:
In a meta-analysis of 208 studies utilizing the mere-exposure effect, researchers found the best ways to introduce new stimuli were by:
- presenting them briefly
- having between 10–20 presentations
- introducing with a longer delay between interactions
With that, let’s apply it to relationships:
- Prioritize shorter meetups rather than longer ones. Short meetups show you value the other person’s time, and there’s also less chance of running out of things to do. Longer gatherings can be stale if there’s not enough personal rapport between you two.
- Meet your friends, but not too much. This rule’s a bit iffy—if you’ve got really great friends, you might want to hang with them all the time. However, I find it can take 10 interactions to build a relationship with someone new—just like breaking in a new pair of jeans, it takes time to feel comfortable.
- Give your friendships breathing space. Don’t be that clingy person asking to meet up every day! For example, let’s say you have a new coworker. The first week or so, you might feel excited to be around them and talk about many things. But as the months drag on, that novelty wears off as you have to see them… Every. Single. Day. But let’s say you move to a different company and meet up a couple months later—now, you’ve probably got a lot to talk about!
Pro Tip: The mere-exposure effect doesn’t work all the time. One interesting social experiment found that we actually dislike people more if we already don’t like them.
Make Mondays Fun
A recent survey of over 40,000 people confirms it:
Mondays are awful. People say on Mondays they:
- socialize the least
- have the highest stress levels
- are in the worst mood
Compare this to Saturday, which is everyone’s favorite day (unsurprisingly).
But here’s an idea for you—let’s create something truly special.
Forget the “Saturday night out”…
… And bring forth the Magical Mondays!
Because EVERYONE loves Saturday. We usually have plans to go out and enjoy our day (it’s a given).
However, everyone usually dreads Monday. But if you can gather your friends on Monday, you’ll all feel immense relief to have something to look forward to.
And since the survey shows people also feel the most ambitious on Mondays, try setting up your weekly hobby class, book club, or host your Mastermind group on Mondays. Or do something really creative:
- do a picnic
- host a game night
- do a scavenger hunt
- have a theme potluck night
- grocery shop together (then have dessert)
- make an ice cream night
- start a book club
- host a karaoke night
Try starting, joining, or doing a Monday night activity club once a week or month (depending on your extroversion level). Gather your friends, go to the local places you hang out and post a group notice on their bulletin board, or find friends online on Meetup.com or your local Facebook groups to get the ball rolling.
This will literally turn your Monday into Fun-day! (sorry)
Ask Dopamine-Boosting Questions
Have you ever asked a question like “How’s the weather?” or “How are you?”
One word: boring!
These questions are ones we’ve heard a million times over.
Instead, try using a dopamine-boosting question.
Don’t fall back on the defaults!
Instead of “What do you do?” ask one of these dopamine-boosting questions:
- “What’s something unexpected that happened to you last week?”
- “What was your most memorable concert?”
- “Who in your life makes you laugh out loud?”
- “What was the worst date you’ve been on?”
- “If you could travel anywhere tomorrow, where would you go?”
- “What does your dream home or apartment look like?”
- “What’s a creative project you want to bring to the world?”
For a more comprehensive list of fun conversation starters, check out our article: 57 Killer Conversation Starters So You Can Start A Conversation With Anyone, Anytime
This is something I do regularly to keep in touch with my friends.
For example, I’ll randomly text something kind to someone on my contact list:
Or simply send a handwritten note to a pen pal! Here are a few more ideas to get those brain juices flowing:
- Congratulations text. Send a simple text of congratulations to a random friend. A simple “Congratulations!” will do. This works because someone almost ALWAYS has something to celebrate—a promotion/new baby/birthday/new gym habit/[insert other goal achieved here]. I’ve received amazing replies back from shocked friends wondering how I knew they’re having a baby shower or from acquaintances who just got engaged.
- Photo share. Have an exciting memory with your friend that you captured in a photo? Send them the photo as a great way to remember what you did together! Try something like, “Hey! I was just browsing my photos and stumbled upon this pic of us in Miami! Good times!”
- Friendship jar. Gather some scraps of paper and write down a friend’s name on each one. Stick the scraps in a jar and randomly reach in and grab one. Whoever you pick, reach out to them! Try doing this fun friendship-building activity every week or 2.
- Food story. Chances are, you’ve had some great food with your friend. The next time you’re at a similar restaurant without your friend, snap a pic of your food and send it!
- The Wild Goat. This one’s inspired by a random wild goat I saw running through the street a few years ago. When I saw it, I literally wanted to call up and tell ALL my closest friends. This is where it hit me—what a great idea to share it with friends I haven’t talked to in a while. This wild goat became a cornerstone conversation piece for my upcoming texts and also helped me connect with friends I haven’t talked to in months.
And just like that, you’re connected!
It takes courage to send a text to someone you haven’t talked to in 4 years!
But I want to let you know…
You are not alone.
As a recovering awkward person, I know how hard it is to make friends. That’s why I want to help you captivate any audience and own your relationships. Learning people skills is like being a superhero with mind-reading abilities, and I want to give you that power.
Unlock the Secrets of Charisma
Control and leverage the tiny signals you’re sending – from your stance and facial expressions to your word choice and vocal tone – to improve your personal and professional relationships.
Succeed with People
Master the laws of human behavior. Get along with anyone, increasing your influence, impact, and income.
Here’s a really simple tip:
Start using the word friend.
You’re welcome, friend!
Nice to hear from you, friend.
This is my friend…
Oh, I missed you, friend!
Sometimes, honoring our friends with that label strengthens the friendship.
Find Their Love Language
A love language is, according to Gary Chapman, how we give and receive love. There are 5 main languages:
- physical touch, like hugs and kisses
- receiving gifts
- spending quality time with someone
- receiving acts of service, like someone doing the dishes or laundry for them
- words of affirmation, such as thank-yous and reassurance
The problem is:
We can’t show the same love language to all our friends and expect to receive the same level of appreciation.
For example, some friends may prefer receiving gifts, while others love it when you praise their work.
So I discovered that showing the RIGHT love language to friends makes them feel more loved.
How do you do that?
Start by finding their love language. Experiment by giving them a gift, an appropriate touch on the shoulder, offering your service to them, etc. Or take a deep dive and get familiar with the love languages by taking our quiz:
Celebrate With Them
Let me tell you a story:
When I first launched People School—my flagship interpersonal course for top performers—I was thrilled:
balloons-, sprinkles-, and glitter-in-the-air-type thrilled.
However, I received one dream-killing message from a “friend”:
“Nice job, but I still think [competitor]’s course is better.”
So what did I do?
I ignored him and stopped responding to his messages. That was a fake friend!
It sounds harsh, but fake friends are people who WON’T celebrate with you.
They’ll find a million reasons why your product will fail, your idea won’t work, etc., and they won’t provide you constructive criticism.
Don’t be that person.
True friends celebrate with each other. They’re not envious of each others’ achievements—they’re good friends because they want their friends to succeed.
So celebrate with your friends.
Don’t be envious of their successes, and truly enjoy every time there’s a celebration (even the small ones)!
Bonus: Why Are We Lonelier as Adults?
Making friends as a kid may seem easier than as an adult.
No longer are we forced to be smooshed together on a yellow bus or sat down next to each other in assigned seats to learn together. And no longer do we constantly hear, “Did you make a friend at school?”
Our expectations change as we grow up, so we need to change our friendship-making skills.
And as adults, friendships seem more fluid. We’ve got kids, jobs, and other struggles to deal with.
So we simply decide to prioritize other responsibilities over making and keeping friends.
So let’s live successful and happy lives by valuing our friendships! For further reading, check out these “friendly” resources: