In a world that is increasingly connected yet socially distant, making and maintaining friendships has never been more important. But what if making friends wasn't just an art, but a science?
Welcome to the fascinating realm of the science of friendship, where researchers have delved deep into the intricacies of human connection to uncover proven strategies for forming meaningful relationships.
You might be an introvert looking to expand your social circle or simply curious about the secrets behind lasting friendships. Either way, this is the perfect read for you.
I explore the science of friendship and provide practical strategies alongside thought-provoking insights to help you foster meaningful connections in your own life.
So, get ready to unravel the mysteries of human connection and discover the science-backed strategies that can transform how you approach and nurture your friendships.
Further reading: The importance of making friends during motherhood.
Practice active listening
Have you ever met someone you simply want to be around with and talk to? Chances are, they're good listeners!
Active listening engages the brain's social cognition network, signalling to the other person that you are genuinely interested in them.
People who are active listeners can make you open up and feel heard around them, making you want to become friends with them. You love talking to them as you think they understand what you say. This activates areas associated with empathy and trust, promoting a sense of connection and rapport.
Unfortunately, not all of us listen to understand. Instead, we tend to listen to reply. If you have this problem, here is how you can start improving your listening skills:
- Restate what the other person said to make sure you understood the message
- Ask appropriate questions to show your interest
- Demonstrate positive nonverbal cues
Doing these the first few times can be challenging, but being an active listener will soon come naturally.
Show empathy and understanding
Scientifically speaking, empathy triggers mirror neurons in the brain. This leads us to resonate with the emotions of others. This neural synchronisation fosters emotional bonding and a sense of shared understanding.
I'm sure you've been told to try putting yourself in someone else's shoes. This is how we develop empathy, the ability to see a situation through another person's point of view, the "social glue" that prompts us to help and be kinder.
Sometimes, when a friend is in a situation we do not agree with, we could be tempted to become the voice of reason and try to correct them. But this could destroy a relationship, as the other person might feel invalidated or judged.
Instead, we must practice more empathy. One of the most important ways to be empathetic is to resist the desire to give advice or pass judgement, especially when unwarranted. Imagine how you would feel if you were in their situation, and how you would simply need a listening ear.
Be a reliable friend
Being reliable is another crucial ingredient in making friends. In a nutshell, being reliable means that if you say you will do something, you will do it.
Everyone loves a reliable person. It shows that you respect others and are trustworthy and dependable. Reliability and trustworthiness activate the brain's "trust circuitry," which enhances feelings of safety and security within social relationships.
Here are 3 ways to become a more reliable friend:
- Live up to your promises. If you commit to meet for coffee at 3 pm on Saturday, be there. Regularly failing to show up gives the impression that this person is unimportant to you.
- Show up on time. This demonstrates respect for the other person's time. Remember, your friend also as their schedule and routine, and they are setting aside time for you.
- Communicate well. If something urgent comes up, have the grace to call up and tell your friend. And update them occasionally; don't just leave them waiting, not knowing when you'll show up, if at all.
Show positivity and humour
There's a reason making friends seems easier for funny people. Positivity is contagious!
We already struggle with personal issues on our own, so being around people who can make situations lighter and brighter is more enjoyable. Don't take life too seriously, and learn to have fun.
According to scientists, positivity and humour can trigger the release of endorphins and oxytocin, promoting feelings of pleasure and bonding. They also reduce social barriers and make you more approachable.
You don't have to be the "class clown" of your friend group, but improving your sense of humour will surely help make you someone people love to have around. If you need help being a little bit funnier, watch more comedy!
However, be cautious about the kinds of jokes you make. For example, jokes made at the expense of other people's appearance are always a no-no.
Being authentic means staying true to who you really are. We will discuss this separately at the end of this article. For now, let's talk about authenticity in social interactions.
Authenticity means living in such a way that your words and actions align with your personal values. It is key to building trust and social cohesion. The brain's social cognition network is sensitive to detecting sincerity, and genuine interactions are more likely to be rewarding.
Also, you'll be more at ease in social interactions when you're not hiding behind a mask, keeping appearances, or trying to please others. It's a less stressful way to live!
Compliment your friends
Everyone, secretly or not, loves hearing good things about themselves. Receiving compliments activates the same brain regions associated with rewards. Genuine compliments reinforce positive feelings and strengthen social bonds.
Whether it's a simple "You look great today" or an "I'm so grateful to be your friend" that comes with a hug after allowing you to cry on their shoulder, compliments are a great way to show your appreciation. Asking for their opinion or help can also make them feel valuable.
But be careful not to overdo it that you come off as insincere, patronising, or worse, weird. Don't fawn over them, and don't excessively flatter. Remember, love bombing is never cool!
Smile and use positive body language
They say it's not what you say but how you say it. And a huge part of that is your body language.
Humans are very sensitive to reading nonverbal cues, and we react to them, consciously or unconsciously. For example, if we see someone with a pleasant smile, the part of our brain that processes rewards is activated, which makes us feel good. And when we make people feel good, they will love to be around us.
That's one reason to start smiling!
Aside from smiling, walking up to people, making eye contact, and having an open posture also suggest you are open to making friends. Positive body language, including eye contact and smiling, activates mirror neurons, creating a sense of connection and understanding between individuals.
Respect people's boundaries
Do you also feel icky when someone crosses your personal space? Believe it or not, you're not being extra sensitive; it's your instinct!
Instinct is crucial for our survival. That's why we dodge when something is about to hit us and avoid objects in our path. And when someone crosses your boundaries, your brain sets off alarm bells, making you uncomfortable.
Respecting boundaries promotes a sense of autonomy and control in social interactions. When people feel respected, they are more likely to feel comfortable and open in building friendships.
So if you want to start making friends, don't just show up at someone's front door without asking!
Aside from respecting other people's physical boundaries, it's important to respect each other's emotional boundaries. Be sensitive to words or actions that make others feel uncomfortable. Respect their decisions and feelings.
Lastly, being true to yourself is another major ingredient to building relationships. It means you are not changing who you are to make friends. Being yourself is when your values and actions align.
I struggled with this a lot when I was younger, especially as a teenager. I so badly wanted to fit in that I changed my personal style, the way I talked, and even my opinions to hang around the cool kids. In hindsight, I realised I was never really happy around them. That I was not myself all those years must be why I was unhappy.
To be yourself, you must first know yourself. Know where your values lie. What makes you uncomfortable? What can you compromise, and what things are non-negotiable when it comes to friends?
Next, embrace your strengths and vulnerabilities. This is how you feel worthy of love and friendship for who you really are.
Finally, remember that you won't be everyone's cup of tea, so stop caring about how others think of you.
Further reading: Why single parent support groups will enlighten your life.