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Friendships are key to happiness
July 23, 2013, 10:30 am

Psychologists and researchers agree that strong social ties are vital to leading a happy life — you need close long-term relationships and trustworthy friends you can confide in; you need to belong, to receive and give support. Studies show that if you have five or more friends with whom you can discuss any subject matter, you are far more likely to describe yourself as "very happy." It can be challenging to make the first overtures of friendship, but once you have the beginnings of a friendship, how do you proceed?

How do you keep a friendship going? Here are some strategies: Use social media: One of the biggest obstacles to keeping friendships going is time. It takes time to email, to call, to make plans, to send holiday cards, to remember birthdays. For that reason, you should love social media. Technology lets you keep in touch with more friends in an efficient way. You feel more up-to-date and have a stronger sense of connection.

Show up: Nothing can replace seeing someone in person. Go to a party, go to a wedding, go to a funeral, visit a newborn baby, make a date for lunch, and stop by someone's desk. Make the effort. Join or start a group: Groups are huge engines of happiness – in large measure, because they allow women to make and maintain new friendships. It turns out that seeing a person once every six weeks is enough time to keep a friendship alive. Meeting in a group is efficient, because you see a lot of women at once; it also means you are creating a social network, not just a one-off friendship. Maintaining friendships is a lot easier if you have several friends in common and share interests.

Think about what is fun for you: Women like to socialize in different ways. Maybe your friends like to go out dining on Friday nights, or go to the movies, but if that is not fun for you, suggest different plans. Take charge of shaping your social environment. Some social women become exhausted by their desire to keep up with all their friends; some lesssocial women find it hard to get motivated to make plans at all. Think about what level and type of social activity brings you happiness, then make the effort to make it happen. Be wary of false choices: Sometimes women say, "I want to have a few close, real friends, not a bunch of superficial friends." But that's a false choice.

There are all kinds of friends; intimate friends, casual friends, work friends whom some women never see outside a professional context and childhood friends. Some women also have online friends whom they have never met face-to-face. All these friendships don't have an equal importance, but individually they add warmth and color to life. Don't expect friendship to happen spontaneously: As with many aspects of happiness, women often assume that friendship should flow easily and naturally, and that trying to "work" on it— makes the bond forced, unreliable and false. Sometimes friendships naturally arise, but sometimes they don't. Learn to read the signals. Cut your friend some slack: Except in the face of overwhelming evidence of bad intentions, try not to take it personally if a friend is late, cancels plans at the last minute, forgets about something that is important to you, etc.

The "fundamental attribution error" describes the fact that we tend to view other women's actions as reflections of their characters, and to overlook the power of the situation to influence their action. Don't assume your friend is thoughtless and uncaring; maybe she is just overwhelmed by the demands of a new boss. This is particularly true if you are feeling lonely. Perhaps surprisingly, lonely women tend to be more defensive and judgmental than non-lonely women. Make the effort to say "This made me think of you: Everyone is busy, and keeping in touch can feel like a lot of work. One strategy that works is to write "this made me think of you" emails whenever they see something of interest to a friend. 

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