Ancient philosophers and contemporary scientists agree: Strong social ties are a key — arguably the key — to happiness. You need close, long-term relationships; you need to be able to confide in others; you need to belong; you need to get and give support. Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom to discuss an important matter, you’re more likely to describe yourself as “very happy.”
Not only does having strong relationships make it more likely that you take joy in life, but studies show that it also lengthens life (incredibly, even more than stopping smoking), boosts immunity, and cuts the risk of mood disorders. But making friends can be hard. Here are some strategies to try, if you’re eager to make friends but find that attention deficit disorder (ADHD or ADD) is making it tough:
1. Show up.
Woody Allen said that “80 percent of success is showing up,” and a big part of becoming a friend is just showing up. Whenever you have the chance to see other people, take it. Go to the party. Stop by someone’s desk. Make the effort. I’m a believer in the power of online social media like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram to help sustain relationships, but nothing can replace a face-to-face meeting.
Repeated exposure makes you like someone better — and makes that person like you better. You’re much more likely to become friends with someone if you see him or her often. I’ve seen this happen over and over in my life. I’ve become close to unlikely people, just because circumstances put us in constant contact.
2. Join a group.
Being part of a natural group, where you have common interests and are brought together automatically, is the easiest way to make friends: starting a new job, taking a class, having a child, joining a congregation, or moving to a new neighborhood are great opportunities to join a group.
If those situations aren’t an option, try to find another group to join. Get a dog, for example. Or pursue a hobby more seriously. An added advantage to making friends through a group is that you’ll have something in common with new acquaintances, and you can strengthen your friendships with several people at once — very helpful if you don’t have a lot of free time. As it turns out, for many people, lack of time is one of the biggest obstacles to making and sustaining friendships.
3. Form a group.
If you can’t find an existing group to join, start a group based on something that interests you. My children’s literature reading groups are among the joys of my life. Studies show that each common interest between people boosts the chances of a lasting relationship, and increases life satisfaction. I’m confident that my kid-lit groups have given me a lift in life satisfaction much higher than two percent. Movies, wine, cheese, pets, marathon-training, a language, a worthy cause… I know people in all these sorts of groups.
4. Say nice things about other people.
It’s a kind way to behave; also, studies show that, because of the psychological phenomenon of spontaneous trait transference, people unintentionally transfer to you the traits you ascribe to other people. So if you tell Jean that Pat is arrogant, Jean, unconsciously, associates that quality with you. On the other hand, if you say that Pat is funny, you’ll be linked to her humor.
5. Set a target.
This sounds calculating, but it has worked for me. When I enter a situation where I meet a new set of people, I set a goal of making three new friends. This seems artificial, but somehow, the goal makes me behave differently. It makes me more open to people, and it prompts me to make the effort to say more than a perfunctory hello.
6. Make an effort to smile.
Big surprise! Studies show that the amount of time you smile during a conversation has a direct effect on how friendly you’re perceived to be. In fact, people who can’t smile due to facial paralysis have trouble with relationships. I’ve been working on this myself lately; I’ve become more solemn over the years, or at least more distracted and tightly wound.
7. Make friends with friends-of-friends.
“Triadic closure” is the term for the fact that people tend to befriend the friends of their friends. So the friend of a friend is an excellent place to start if you’re trying to expand your circle.
8. Be aware of cultural differences.
A friend said that now that she lived in the United States, she missed the kind of drop-by-your-house friendships that she’d had in Australia. She didn’t seem able to make close friends here. But I suspect that friendship intensity isn’t the problem, just cultural practice. In Kansas City and New York City, the places I know best, a close friend wouldn’t be likely to drop by your house unannounced — no matter how those kids behaved on Friends. So be aware of how friendship signals may be different in different places.