For such a social group of people, Australians can be a pretty lonely bunch. Research shows that most Australians will experience loneliness at some point in their lives with 51% reporting they feel lonely for at least one day each week.
Why is this such a big deal? Well, it turns out that feeling lonely can pose a bigger risk for premature death than smoking.
Regardless of what the stats say, loneliness isn’t inevitable. Although data shows that the number of our friends drops significantly around age 25, it’s often because your ‘casual’ friends drop off; greater effort is made in maintaining the relationships you see as more important to you.
And if you’re over 25 and worried that you haven’t made those deep friendships yet, don’t worry. Even though it seems like it’s more difficult to make friends — it’s not impossible. The Latchspoke to Dr Ali Walker (PhD), a human connection scientist, and Alex Kingsmill, certified evidence-based coach, about why adult friendship is so important, and how we can go about making them.
Why are adult friendships so important?
Citing a survey from Burt’s Bees, Dr Walker says 64.3% of people state they help create happiness in others by being there and listening to them, while 50.1% create happiness by supporting others with their needs and goals.
“Human connection doesn’t just make us happy; it’s a biological need,” Dr Walker said. Adult friendship prevents feelings of loneliness and provides a support network in both good and bad times.
The difficultly is that as adult friendships fall by the wayside while we focus on “more immediate priorities like children, jobs and partners,” we then put this pressure on our intimate relationships. We ask of them to meet all our needs — including those that can only be met by a robust group of friends.
If you’re wondering why it seems to be harder to make friends as an adult, it’s because “There are fewer ‘forced’ ways to make friends, like school and university.”
What are the health benefits of staying social?
Honestly, the list is pretty endless. Those with strong ties to family and friends have a 50% less risk of dying early, in comparison to those with fewer social connections.
Not being able to wipe the grin off your face is another side effect of staying social — Burt’s Bees found that 63% of people find themselves smiling more as they focus on increasing time and effort into their connections with family and friends
“Staying social can reduce your risk of developing depression, benefits overall cognitive function, and can improve physical fitness,” said Dr Walker.
How to make friends as an adult
“We are hard-wired to connect,” emphasises Dr Walker. Expanding on this, she says “Making friends is actually easier than you might think, and many people are in the same boat.”
Her first suggestion, before making the leap into friendship waters, is to take the time to understand where your own values and life priorities lie. “What type of person do you want to spend your time with? What kind of activities do you want to be doing with them when you connect?
“Once you know these simple things, it’s just about making an effort and creating opportunities for yourself to meet new people.”
Kingsman, whose clients are often lonely and feel deep shame about it, says that people often tend to lose the courage and the willingness to be vulnerable that making new friends requires.
However, she put a foolproof list together for us on just how to make friends as an adult:
Make a routine and stick to it
“If you always go to gym class at 6:30am on a Wednesday, chances are others will go to that same class every week too,” says Kingsmill. “The more you see familiar faces, the more likely you’ll develop opportunities to connect.”
Lift your gaze
If your New Year’s goal was to get off your phone more, this one’s for you!
“In order to make friends, you need to get into the habit of engaging with the wider world. Put your phone away on public transport, smile at other dog-walkers, chat with the person at the check-out, talk to people in elevators.”
Acknowledging that these people may not become your life-long buddies, Kingsmill says. “This openness will encourage a way of being with the world that will help facilitate friendships elsewhere.”
Start your own group
“By making your own social circle, you get to shape what it looks like,” advises Kingsmill. “Start a mothers’ group and post it on local forums, initiate a regular gathering of like-minded creative folk, volunteer to be the first social committee member at work establish a study club.”
Ask for referrals
Yep, just like you would a plumber or mechanic. Ask your friends if they know anyone — like a blind date, but for friendship!
“Put your shame aside and ask away. Let people know what you’re trying to do, who you’re trying to meet, and see if they know anyone they can put you in touch with.”
Make it your job
We pour so much effort and focus into our career and see the rewards, but neglect to give the same TLC to our social lives.
“Building a social community needs serious time and commitment. Get clear on what action you will take and when, and put those dates in your diary,” Kingsmill said.
Take the pressure off
There’s no need to assess every new contact as a potential friend but you may find yourself slipping into that territory. Kingsmill suggests making contact with heaps of people, focusing on developing weak ties, and then take the step to progress the connection.
Follow your interests
It’s highly unlikely there isn’t another person out there that is into what you’re into so deep dive into your interests, whether it’s sport, food, travel, languages, fitness.
“Make a list of as many possible activities related to that field as you can think of, and commit to doing a new one each week. Chances are you’ll meet a few like-minded people along the way,” said Kingsmill.
Oh, and one last hint from Dr Walker: “Reach out! Right now! Today! Be the driver of your friendships and you might just find a few new names in your phone to contact when you’re free.”