You probably already know that having friends is good for you and makes you happy and healthy—scientists agree that one of the keys to happiness lies in having strong social ties. They even say that you’re more likely to describe yourself as “very happy” if you have five or more people in your life with whom to discuss an important matter.
But if you’re a few years (or decades) out of college, you probably also know how difficult it can be to stay close to old friends, let alone meet new people and grow new friendships. So where do you start? Here are some strategies to try if you’re ready to make new friends:
1. GET CLOSE WITH ACQUAINTANCES: We all have people in our lives whom we see often enough but haven’t made a closer connection to, like a friend of a friend you see at parties or a woman you chat with from your yoga class. But how do you get closer without inviting the out one-on-one, which may feel scary? Researchers have developed what they call the “Fast Friends” protocol, sets of questions for both people to answer that can turn strangers into friends in 45 minutes. The key—both people have to be up for it. Give it a try with these questions and see if your acquaintance opens up and returns the question:
• Before making a telephone call, do you ever rehearse what you are going to say? Why?
• Do you have a secret hunch about how you will die?
• If you could change anything about the way you were raised, what would it be?
• If you could wake up tomorrow having gained any one quality or ability, what would it be?
2. CHALLENGE YOURSELF TO SAY YES: Sometimes, the reason we’re not making new friends is because we’re not meeting new people. It’s easy to stick with the familiar (dinner with your significant other followed by a night of television), but you won’t make new friends in your living room during a solo Netflix marathon. Challenge yourself to say yes to every invite for a month—party invitations, drinks with coworkers, book readings, and networking events—and try to connect with at least three new people at each gathering.
3. MAKE THE MOST OF YOUR HOBBIES: Look for social opportunities with the things you already love to do—common interests help people bond, and it’s an easy conversation starter. If you run, take it to the next level and join a marathon-training group. Love yoga? Go on a weekend retreat. Volunteering, joining a book group, and taking a class in an unfamiliar subject are other options.
4. SHOW UP ALONE: Going to an event without a friend or significant other by your side can be a little scary… but it can also force you to be more outgoing. Not to mention, people in packs look like established friends—showing up alone makes you look more approachable and less intimidating. Still not convinced? Ease into it by meeting up with a friend at a social event, but arrive 15 minutes early and try mingling on your own.
5. CHANGE THINGS UP: If you usually take a morning Zumba class, switch to an evening class a few times to see some new faces. Walk the dog every morning? Take the pooch to a different dog park than your usual. Have weekly drink plans with two pals? Tell them to extend the invitation to some of their friends you haven’t met before.