I have been studying the link between happiness and social connections and lately, in my own life, I see a strong correlation between the two and how important friendships are to how happy I am feeling. It can be a lonely old world on your own and I am starting to realise the great importance friends play in impacting your levels of happiness.
There was a period of my life about 10 years ago, where on paper everything was great and I couldn’t understand why I was not more happy. There really felt like there was something missing. Looking back, I feel it was because I did not have strong, close friendship bonds with the friends who lived nearby. I thought I did, but it was harshly illustrated to me how surface level these friendships where when my relationship fell apart and most of my friends went with it! Please don’t think I am blaming the people who were in my life at this time, it was and still is fully my responsibility on who is in my life and how strong my friendships are. I just hadn’t found the right people and I hadn’t learned how to be a good friend. It gave me the wake up call I needed to evaluate my friendships and make some changes in my life.
It was when I moved abroad for the first time that I started to look at friendship differently. I had to make friends, or I would literally be entirely on my own in an unfamiliar country. I remember the first weekend I arrived in Mumbai, I had major anxiety about spending a Saturday night on my own. (I still get this now!) To ensure this would not be the case, I gathered up all my courage and approached a friendly looking girl at the pool of the hotel I was staying at and asked if she was on her own and whether she wanted to have dinner together. She was with a colleague but she invited me to join them and this was to be the first of many experiences of putting myself out there to make new friends and getting to know new people. I think it is a skill that you definitely get better at with practise. I would say I’m still not amazing at it, and I still feel awkward when I am trying to meet new people, but it definitely feels less alien than it used to.
People often ask me what’s the difference between countries when making friends. I’ve learnt things from each country, but overall I think people are pretty similar underneath! In India, the people there are so open and welcoming, they would never see me on my own. They invited me to meet their children, parents and grandparents, to celebrate festivals with them, to share their food, to show me their country. Out of everywhere I have been, I think that was the most welcoming. It really made me reflect on myself as a person and how welcoming I am of others and influenced me for the better to try to be more open and inviting to others.
Over the years of moving around, I have found that I value friendships so highly and I feel a great deal of joy when I meet someone important to me. I feel absolutely lucky with some of the amazing people I count amongst my friends who I have the pleasure of spending time with, asking for advice from and giving advice, giving and receiving encouragement from and having fun with.
Every time I move countries, my confidence gets a bit of a battering, because you have to start again. You move from having that tight knit friendship group around you, to getting to know brand new people and becoming friends. I am truly blessed with the friends I have around the world, but its obviously important that in the place you live, you have good friends nearby and this takes time. The advantage of moving around a lot is that you get to meet lots of different people and get much more familiar with the process of making friends as an adult.
Things I have learnt on my journey:
1) Don’t spend time with people who make you feel bad
Have you ever gone out with a friend or a group of friends and when you have got home you feel drained, or a bit down? Life’s too short for this. I made a decision a few years ago that if that happened, I would stop seeing that person or group of people. It’s not healthy for either of you if you are feeling lower after spending time together than you would be from being on your own.
2) Don’t surround yourself with carbon copies of you
I realised that in my 20s, all my friends were very similar to me, in respect of age, background, upbringing, lifestyle and beliefs. This made my world of influence pretty small. I now have friends of all ages, nationalities and walks of life. It’s so much more fulfilling with this variety of people in my life, there is so much more to learn and experience from people with different views, beliefs and experiences.
3) Find the balance between being in the moment with the friends you are with and maintaining friendships with those further away
I have to work really hard to be fully present with the people I am with and tear myself away from the pull of Whatsapp and all my friends scattered around the world that I am trying to keep connected with. This is no reflection of the people I am with, it’s the draw of constantly being connected. I am trying to get better at allocating specific time to catch up with friends and not feel that I need to respond instantly wherever I am. It is important to be in the moment and I am working more on that, as much as I want to stay in touch with everyone all the time.
4) Good friends are the people you can be totally honest with
Its totally fine to have acquaintances that you spend time with, but real, true, deep friendships are where you can bear your heart and soul. Sometimes it is hard to be honest with yourself. I find that my closest friends have the ability to encourage me to be honest with myself through talking to them. There are times when I don’t want to be totally honest with people as I want them to perceive me in a particular way, but my true, close friends, I can be totally myself with, I do not need to put up an act or pretend to be someone I am not.
5) Accept that some friends are there for a period in your life
I used to feel that I needed to keep in contact with every single person I had ever considered a friend and I would stress out if I thought I was going to lose a friend. I have become much more comfortable with the fact that some people are in your life for a period of time and it doesn’t devalue that period at all, but people change and move on and sometimes physically move away and it is very difficult to keep in touch with everyone.
6) Most people love making a new friend
I used to feel very insecure about trying to make new friends. You feel vulnerable when you put yourself out there, what if you get rejected, what if the other person has enough friends and doesn’t want any other ones, what if they don’t like you? What I have found is that most people love it if you make an effort to make friends with them. If someone doesn’t want to be friends, that’s more about what is going on in their life than a reflection of you.
7) Tell your friends how much they mean to you
I have learned to become a lot more open about telling my friends how important they are in my life. There are times when I have spent time with friends and literally skipped back to my apartment as I feel so happy to have them in my life. They make me laugh, they make me smile, they support me, they give me motivation, they make me feel happy, I learn from them and I feel totally at ease in their company. When you feel like this, it’s great to tell them the positive impact they have had on you.
I couldn’t be happier with my friends. I have so many amazing people in my life that make me feel great when I spend time with them and I hope they feel the same way in my company. I really try to put in effort to keep connected with people, but I am lucky that with most of my friendships it is a mutual understanding that we might not be in constant contact, but we will be there for each other when needed and when we get back in touch it is literally like no time has passed at all.
I’d love to hear in the comments below your thoughts about the association between friendship and happiness.