When your calendar’s full, finding time to get together with friends can feel like work. Making new friends, however, can be even more daunting. Who has the energy? And how do you get over the awkwardness?
But you probably know that opting to binge watch House Of Cards isn’t the best move for your well-being. “Friendship is enormously powerful in terms of happiness levels,” says Eric Barker, author of Barking Up The Wrong Tree: The Surprising Science Behind Why Everything You Know About Success Is (Mostly) Wrong .
“Research by Nicholas Christakis at Yale found that relationships are the number one promoter of happiness in life.” A bigger network leads to bigger happiness, according to the Yale study. “When friends of friends become happier, it ripples through the social circle,” says Barker. “Your happiness can affect theirs.”
In fact, a weak social circle is bad for your health, adds Barker. According to research from Brigham Young University, not having enough friends is the same risk factor as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.
Building your social circle is important, but there are ways to go about it that can boost your success. Here are four methods of making new friends, and the research that will convince you to make the effort.
1. Contact Old Friends
Connecting with the friends you already have is a good place to start, says Barker. Cold networking feels sleazy, according to research by Harvard Business School professor Francesca Gino, so you’re less likely to do it.
“Reaching out to old friends is an effective way to make connections, and you already know these people so it’s not hard,” says Barker. “Those people can introduce you to more people.”
It helps to leverage your “superconnectors.” “If you look at your contact list on your smartphone you will probably see that some uber-connected friend introduced you to 10 or 15 other people,” says Barker. “Making more connections is like card counting. Be smart and start with superconnectors.”
Barker suggests looking at your Facebook or LinkedIn connections. Send an email to arrange lunch or coffee, and let them know you’re interested in meeting more people. They may have recommendations and can make introductions.
2. Make Friends At Work
Coworkers are a great source of new friendships, says Barker. You already spend a lot of time together and are in close proximity. Just like when you were in school, you can build relationships at the office lunch table. Look for people who sit at the larger tables. Research from Ben Waber, a visiting scientist at MIT, found that people who sit at large tables are similar to superconnectors, having bigger networks and more knowledge about their colleagues.
It also pays to hang out at the office water cooler. One study shows that 70% to 90% of office gossip tends to be true, and knowing what’s going on helps you stay connected and get ahead, says Barker.
Taking the time to create work relationships has an added bonus: The best predictor of work team success is how the team members feel about each other, writes Shawn Acor in his book The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuels Success and Performance at Work.
3. Be a Good Listener And Find Things In Common
Similarity bonds people, connecting them across the widest range of things. The key to being liked is finding shared connections, and there’s a mountain of research to back it up, says Barker.
When you have conversations with new people, leverage this fact by highlighting similarities. “You don’t want to be sneaky and create similarities, but when you’re talking to someone, get to know them and highlight connections in a way that’s genuine and authentic,” says Barker.
Simply being a good listener is a great way to bond. Your brain gets more pleasure from talking about yourself than it does from food or money, according to Princeton University neuroscientist Diana Tamir. Asking someone questions about themselves also creates a sense of intimacy, according to SUNY psychology professor Arthur Aron.
4. Join Or Start A Group
Denmark has the happiest people in the world, and one reason is that 92% of its population belongs to a social group, ranging from sports to cultural interests, says Barker. If you’re not already in a group, Barker suggests starting one, such as a weekly networking lunch, book club, movie night, or wine tasting.
Groups are organized around a shared hobby or passion, which plays into the power of similarity. And there are benefits for widening your circle. Your close friends are likely to live in your area, hear about the same things, and know of the same opportunities. Tapping into weaker ties will help you hear about things you wouldn’t hear about otherwise, says Barker.
Once You Make Friends, Do This To Keep Them
Making and keeping friends takes time, and the best way to follow through is to put it on your calendar, says Barker.
Arizona State University anthropology professor Daniel Hruschka reviewed studies on the causes of friendship conflict, and the most common reason for problems was due to time commitments, says Barker.
If you want to remain friends with someone, check in at least once every two weeks, according to research from Notre Dame. It helps to put a reminder on your calendar.