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Week 22 | The Power of Community: How to Make Friends

--Audio Guide--

I went to the same school from 1st grade to senior year of high school and throughout it I had had a crush on this boy, mostly because he was one of the only boys that was taller than me growing up. I since don’t mind dating guys shorter than me, but anyway…come senior year I decided it was my last chance to profess my deep and longtime love and so I asked him to prom. He said no. A couple of weeks later he couldn’t find a date so he asked me...and I said yes. Oy.

Needless to say, I was not the most popular person in school growing up and that is probably why in my adulthood I seek community and the love and inclusion of others so much - because I didn’t have it. It is an underlying motivation in everything I do. What is playing a team sport, which I did in college at UCLA, professionally and at an Olympic level, but the integration of the self into a group and common goal of kicking butt? What is Miss USA, but the love and acknowledgment from an entire country? What is fashion, but being in the ‘in crowd’? And so on. I just love being around people. It is where I get my energy. For someone to deny me entrance to a group still makes me really sad, but on the flip side I will always be inclusive and encourage those who cannot and don’t have access, a seat at any table I am at because I know how it feels.

Humans are a pack animal. Having a community and friends is a major part of wellness, health and happiness. In fact, scientific studies have shown that those with strong communities and friendships tend to live longer. A 2008 study out of Harvard revealed that, “socially isolated women had an elevated risk of mortality after a diagnosis of breast cancer” (Gene Stone). For men, a Swedish study found that, “having few or no close friends increases the risk of having a first-time heart attack by about 50 percent” (Gene Stone). In general, “those with the fewest social ties were the most likely to suffer from heart disease, anxiety, depression...memory loss and other cognitive disorders”, found a 2009 study out of Buffalo, New York (Gene Stone).

In his book, The Secrets of People Who Never Get Sick, New York Times best-selling author Gene Stone reveals why it is so hard to make friends these days; “the common complaint about modern life - ‘I can’t make any friends’ - has been studied extensively and multiple theories explain this phenomenon” (Gene Stone). Stone goes on with most of us have moved to cities that can be quite isolating. He adds that we spend most of our time at work and that can lead to loneliness because, “we meet many people but make few friends, due to the fact that everyone actually lives elsewhere and heads there immediately after work [and the] workplace is restricted by policies that hamper our ability to interact freely” (Gene Stone).

Most interestingly, Stone explains that Americans have no, “informal public gathering spots. In England, it’s the pub; in France, the cafe; in Italy, the piazza and so on - modern day America does not have an equivalent”; this all has lead to fragmented, unbuildable, and broken social connections. This is perhaps why the internet and social networks have taken such hold; “To some degree the internet has become the new watering hole” for Americans, but studies have shown that constantly being online and relying on online communication can have the opposite effect, encouraging feelings of loneliness further. We need “face-to- face establish intimacy, trust and reciprocity while interacting without the mediation of a keyboard” (Gene Stone).

So yea, friends are great and we need them - but how do you make them?

Gene Stone again with some tips and tricks from his book;

1. Go Out On a Limb:

Stone opens his chapter on friendship with a woman named Sydney Kling who for two years and as long as the conversations she had with people, “led to a brief conversation”, would challenge herself to meet someone new everyday. She would write their names down and sometimes their email addresses and after two years she had collected “750 names” that included “the names of a waitress, a bartender, a salesclerk, the person sitting beside her in church, a neighbor out walking her dog and so on” (Gene Stone). What a great way to give yourself agency to meet new people by setting the goal to meet a new person everyday! In fact for the month of June I am trying this.

2. Look Around:

“Maybe you already have the potential to make new friends right now. Are you getting to know everyone at work? At the club or church? On the bus or train? For the next few weeks, strike up at least two conversations everyday with someone whom you haven't talked to before” (Gene Stone).

3. Listen:

“Listen more than you speak. You’ll accomplish more in the next few months developing a sincere interest in two people than you’ll accomplish in the next few months trying to get two people interested in you” (Gene Stone).

4. Levels:

Instead of asking, ‘what do you do for work’, try asking ‘what are you going to do this weekend’; “People love to talk about their personal passions more than work or even family” (Gene Stone).

5. Help:

“Being helpful is the best way to trigger the social norm of reciprocity”

6. Stay in touch:

On just Facebook doesn’t count. Meet your friends in person (Gene Stone).

7. Stop Complaining:

“Your tone can determine how often others want to converse with you. If you come across as a needy nancy or whiny willy, you’ll get screened out” (Gene Stone).

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