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International Day of Friendship

By Cara Spagnola MSW, LISW, LCSW

July 30 is the International Day of Friendship. Read about the importance of human connection, not only for individuals but for society, and find tips for developing new friendships.

Importance of human connection

The hit theme songs to the "Toy Story” movies, “The Golden Girls,” and “Friends” have one thing in common: they are beautiful odes to friendship. Whether it’s being there for someone who is going through a tough time or the joy that someone’s company brings to your life, friendship is a valuable part of our existence. But what makes a friend? Philosophy and psychology have tried to understand the qualities and attributes that make a meaningful friendship and why this type of relationship is important. One definition is “a distinctively personal relationship that is grounded in a concern on the part of each friend for the welfare of the other, for the other’s sake, and that involves some degree of intimacy,” and a review of philosophical literature found these three themes: mutual caring, intimacy, and shared activity [1].

Human connection also impacts our health. In an analysis of the World Values Survey, researchers found that in folks who see relationships with family and friends as more important, there is “better health, greater happiness, and greater subjective well-being across the lifespan” [2]. The same researchers looked at the Health Retirement Survey and found that “spousal, parent-child, and friendship relationships predicted subjective well-being” for better or worse, depending on whether there was support or strain in the relationships [2].

When we look at which relationships get the most attention, familial bonds and romantic partnerships tend to take the focus. Perhaps this is because we choose our friends, and our friendships change across the lifespan, whereas our siblings, parents, cousins, aunts and uncles, and so forth will remain relatively the same. But there is beauty in this choice, this chosen relationship. Compared to romantic partnerships, the feelings involved in friendships are “just as profound — more even, because we expect them to last much longer” so friendships ending can produce a true grief response [3].

It’s completely normal to lose friendships as an adult

If you’re realizing that you’ve lost a lot of friends over the years, please know that there’s nothing wrong with you! In fact, one study indicated that our number of relationships peaks at age 25 [4]. This makes a lot of sense if you think about the changes going on in our lives. As children, we are encouraged to make friends, socialize, join sports teams and school clubs, attend dances and school activities, and we learn in classrooms alongside our peers. Throughout early adulthood and college-age years, we explore our identities and interests, confirm career paths, and society gives us permission to make mistakes and have fun. In our mid-20s, there is a shift to making strategic decisions for building a career and navigating romantic relationships to find a partner and start a family. These changing goals, priorities, and personal growth can render friendships an afterthought.

Whether you’ve moved to a new city or state, have been focusing on your career for years, or have prioritized taking care of a family, you might be realizing that you could use some more friendships. But let’s be honest: Trying to make friends as an adult can difficult and awkward. There is a level of vulnerability when you put yourself out there and try to connect with another person. It was a lot easier when you were a kid, when you only needed a simple connection with someone like both wearing red shoes or identifying the koala as your favorite animal to instantly become friends. So how do we do it?

Five tips for making friends

Making friends as an adult is such a common challenge that there are "friendship coaches” whose job is to help people cultivate, make, navigate, and strengthen these relationships. Friendship coach Danielle Bayard Jackson helps women build friendship bonds and offers this guidance, which is transferable to all [5]:

Tip 1: “Go deep, not wide.” There may be people in your social circle whom you’re not close with yet, but are friendship material. Having the foundation of mutual contacts can take pressure off starting from scratch with someone you’ve never met.

Tip 2: “Hit up interest groups.” Virtual spaces like MeetUp and local Facebook groups and in-person clubs and organizations provide a variety of options for connecting with others who have similar hobbies or interests. Friendships don’t just happen, so Jackson’s rule is to go at least three times to cultivate familiarity and lay groundwork for things to chat about.

Tip 3: Use the magic phrase “Tell me more.” People really like to talk about themselves. It may be hard, but try to hold back on making a lot of connections to yourself as this will steer the conversation back to you.

Tip 4: Be open minded. If you have an idea of what your ideal friend looks like, or what they do for fun or work, or if many of your friendships are very similar, try being open to someone who may not fit your expectations. Otherwise, you may miss out on getting to know some good people.

Tip 5: Follow up. If you click with someone at an initial meeting, reach out! Don’t let fear of rejection, awkwardness, or time constraints prevent you from making a new friend.

Friendship goes beyond you and me

In 2011, the United Nations designated July 30 as the International Day of Friendship. Years before, their General Assembly adopted a resolution to develop a culture of peace and nonviolence. They believed that social interaction was a crucial component to this effort and that “friendship between peoples, countries, cultures and individuals can inspire peace efforts and presents an opportunity to build bridges” [6]. This effort shows how truly important friendships are, not only on the individual, personal level, but for society and humanity as a whole.

Sources

[1] Helm, B. (2021, July 30). Friendship. Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/friendship/

[2] Chopik, W. J. (2017). Associations among relational values, support, health, and well-being across the lifespan. Personal Relationships, 24, 408–422. DOI: 10.1111/pere.1218740. Retrieved June 21, 2022 from https://drive.google.com/file/d/1CS0M1JJ9JGkOtAVsMtXu4mxqGfQtJ7nA/view

[3] Halton, M. (2021, May 3). How to get over a friendship breakup. TED. https://ideas.ted.com/how-to-get-over-a-friendship-breakup/#:~:text=1.,a%20breakup%20with%20a%20partner

[4] Bhattacharya, K.; Ghosh, A., Monsivais, D., Dunbar, R. I. M., & Kimmo Kaski, K. (2016). Sex differences in social focus across the life cycle in humans. Royal Society Open Science 3(4), 1-9. DOI: 10.1098/rsos.160097 Retrieved June 27, 2022 from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4852646/

[5] Bayard Jackson, D. [Danielle Jackson, Friendship Coach]. (2020, February 10). How to Make Friends as an Adult with Friendship Coach Danielle Bayard Jackson [Video]. YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQ9XyKL1t4o

[6] United Nations. (2011, April 27). International Day of Friendship. https://documents-dds-ny.un.org/doc/UNDOC/LTD/N11/314/00/PDF/N1131400.pdf

Written by

Cara Spagnola MSW, LISW, LCSW

Cara has over 10 years of experience working with children and families in a variety of settings. She learned along the way that connection, education, and support help alleviate the stigma and…

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