Mastering the Lost Art of Friendship

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In these hectic times, it’s easy to overlook the importance of social connection. Or to treat quality time with friends like a favorite dessert saved only for special occasions.

Yet a new Cambridge study cites frequent social connection as top 2 of 7 lifestyle factors shown to positively influence mental health, and which in general reduced the risk of depression by 18%

I stumbled on this info after relocating to a new city, leaving behind an amazing group of friends who helped keep me sane during my six years in Portland, where it rains 75% of the time. While true friends aren’t replaceable, I realized how much I would miss the in-person connection, and how important it is to prioritize!

Having arrived at this new place days before establishing internet connection, I collapsed that first evening after a day of unpacking. A TED talk seemed like a nice distraction, so I opened the app, and there was Marissa Franco, PhD., a woman who wrote the book on adult friendship. It felt timely.

Although our cultural norms promote coupledom, close friends can be just as impactful as a romantic partner in bringing happiness into our lives – and in some cases more. Yet Dr. Franco explains that not only do we tend to deprioritize friendship in our busy society, as adults, we’ve forgotten how to make new ones.

If you don’t have a network of besties already, making friends as an adult can feel like trying to plant a garden in the middle of the city, most of the territory is already taken. We wait for other people to make the first move, hoping the friendships just happen naturally.

I get it, taking the initiative is intimidating! But it’s also a skill you can master.

The art and science of friendship

For years I’ve studied the positive impact of relationships and community on health and wellbeing, so after Dr. Franco’s TED talk, I was excited to walk away with new definitions for common hidden bias.

One natural tendency is known as the “Liking Gap” to explain our inner assessment of how likely another person is to like us. Studies show people routinely underestimate how much other people like them. So this encouraging research suggests that we’re less likely to be rejected than we think. And the interesting part is, almost everyone experiences these same doubts when it comes to meeting new people.

It’s natural to assume you have to be extra charismatic, or funny, or interesting to draw people to you. But research also suggests this perspective ignores the obvious.

Dr. Maya Angelou famously said, “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Listen more than you speak, share the gift of your full attention. It’s a rare gift these days!

And then there’s the mindset piece. When you believe that others will like you, you let your guard down and become more approachable and engaging. This, in turn, increases the likelihood that people will respond positively to you.

Conversely, if you assume that people don’t like you or are rejecting you, it can lead to a negative cycle. You might become withdrawn, guarded, or anxious, which can be off-putting to others. This, in turn, can make it more likely that people respond with indifference or even negativity.

The “Acceptance Prophecy” is another fascinating concept because it highlights the impact of our beliefs and attitudes on our social interactions. By assuming acceptance and positivity, we can create a more welcoming and enjoyable social environment for ourselves, increasing the likelihood of forming new friendships and connections. It’s a reminder of the power of positive thinking and the influence of our own mindset on the outcomes we experience in social situations.

Just as plants need the right conditions for blossoming, building a friendship requires sowing the seeds of connection, nurturing them with genuine interest, patience, and vulnerability.

Making friends requires stepping outside of our comfort zones, opening our hearts in spite of the risk, and letting the Liking Gap remind us that what we see isn’t all there is. It took actress Sally Fields Oscar award to finally learn people really do like her!

A couple more notes based on personal experience;

Keep an open mind! Sometimes the people you least expect to click with end up being those you relate to on a deeper level.

And don’t be discouraged when that person you thought you really clicked with didn’t call back. Know they have their own drama happening and under different circumstances, you would have been besties.

This is such a powerful time to try something new, while many of us are still figuring out how to reconnect. This is an invitation to use what you know to work in your favor in bringing people closer, one meaningful connection at a time.

Looking for coaching support in overcoming the obstacles that keep you from living your best life? Step outside your comfort zone and ​book a 20 minute discovery session​ to learn whether life coaching can help you reach your goals!

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Link to the Cambridge study: https://scitechdaily.com/scientists-identify-7-lifestyle-factors-that-can-lower-your-risk-of-depression

Links to the TED talks: https://www.ted.com/talks/marisa_g_franco_the_secret_to_making_new_friends_as_an_adult/transcript?language=en

Link to related blog post: https://www.elizabethborelli.com/finding-comfort-and-connection-in-todays-new-normal/

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