Enrich Your Social Life With Friendships
Rachel Pauli: Welcome to today’s webinar, ‘Enrich Your Social Life With Friendships’.
My name is Rachel Pauli. I will be the host for today’s webinar. Our presenter is Dr. Phil Quinn. Dr. Quinn is a Chief Psychologist at South Shore Mental Health Center, a psychiatric consultant at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and is a corporate consultant and trainer.
Without further delay, Dr. Quinn, I will turn things over to you.
Dr. Phil Quinn: Well thanks Rachel! Today, we are going to be talking about ways to ways to enrich your social life with friendships. Some of the things we will look at today are really sort of explore some of the benefits and the importance of friendships and look at barriers to developing these and maintaining friendships and may be give some tips to improve and maintain friendships.
In many ways, what we are looking at is discussing the benefits of having close friends in today’s society. As a licensed psychologist, I know how important social support is and how important our peers are to us.
Nan Lin, a Professor at Duke University, noted in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior that social support, it’s available through individuals to social ties, these are from groups, from the larger community or simply put, social support is having good friends, support of friends and support of peers and work colleagues.
Dr. Steven Southwick noted in the Annual Review of Clinical Psychology, while it’s important to have a number of friends and a number of acquaintances, the quality of relationships are also very important. In fact, the quality of our relationships is really a better predictor of good health than the number of friendships. While it’s great to have a big social network, it’s also important to, within that social network, have some very good friends and in order to do that we have to nurture these friends.
But why is social support so important?
Dr. Fatih Ozbay, who is a Professor at Mount Sinai Hospital, reported in the Journal of Psychiatry that psychological resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity and one of the things that helps us adapt difficulty is having the support of friends.
How many times in our lives have we relied on friends to help us through difficulties? There are a lot of benefits to having friendships and I feel almost silly telling you about these because I think most of us know them, but some of the benefits it’s that when we have friends as I mentioned, we increase our psychological resilience. It can boost our happiness, and also help us deal with stress.
When we have things—when we have friends to talk with, we feel more valuable and when we feel more valuable, our confidence goes up and we feel better. If something happens to us and we get to discuss this with friends, we are able to cope a little better. When we have friends, we adjust the difficulties.
A good example of this are groups for example like AA, a group where people go to talk about their substance use problem, be surrounded by supportive and sober peers can be helpful. Social support increases our psychological resilience and this resilience helps us deal and cope with the stress more effectively and we all deal with difficulties every day. And the research is fairly clear that reducing stress leads to increased physical well-being and also reducing stress increases our psychological well-being.
One of the interesting questions I get asked a lot as a clinical psychologist is can men and women be friends on the worksite. That certainly has really changed in 21st-century American society. We are just as likely to work with a person of our gender and just as likely to work with the person of a different gender. And one of the things we find in the workplace is that men and women who are working together can friends. And the reason for that is we often have the same goal, we’re in the same work team, the same work unit.
So we may have a goal of increasing sales or providing some type of a service to a client. So one of the things that we find is that men and women are often friends in the workplace and we have to remember that we spend most of our days at the workplace. If you consider the average day we spend an hour commuting to work, eight hours at work, on average commuting home, but most of our day is getting ready, going to or being at work, so it is not unusual that our colleague becomes a friend that we see every day. So certainly men and women can be friends in the workplace.
Well, social support is very important. It’s a great way to increase our health. It is often interesting to me that making friends is not quite as easy. There appear to be a lot of barriers to making friends and let’s take a look at some of those.
As a clinical psychologist, I will talk about social support and socializing, going out et cetera. One of the things you hear all the time is the lack of time. It's like we don't have much time to do these things any more. Our schedules are very busy, we go from home to work to home and as a result we often forget to nurture friendships. Juliet Schor wrote a book a few years ago, The Overworked Americans, and part of the issue is that we are spending so much time at work, so much time commuting back and forth that we often take a little time to interact with our social life.
How many of us, if we take the train to work actually develop friendships on the train? So it is important to take a look at some of the barriers that get in the way of this process. And when we do this, we understand why we get—why things get in the way. Some people have personal problems, fears, anxiety. We get shy. We get feel a little bit uncomfortable introducing ourselves to others and it is hard to figure out how we make friendships.
If you're new to the area, if you are new to work for example, and friendship is already established, it's sometimes hard to break into a new neighborhood where friendships are established and we don't know anyone yet. Finally I think it is very difficult to balance personal and social time. We all need our private time. We all need our family time. We all need our sleep time, work time and exercise time and sometimes it is very difficult to balance all those.
Finally we also have prejudices. Often our prejudices are built in from our childhood that we like to do certain things, we like certain types of people. And one of the things we see in a more diverse workplace and in a more diverse society is that we have our neighbors or our colleagues who are a little bit different from us. They may have had a slightly different background. So we have to take risks in order to challenge these prejudices that we may have developed over the years.
We also live in a mobile society. Some of our neighbors are moving on work, our colleagues; our work friends are moving from one position to another and when that happens, we often lose contact with other people and when we lose contact with other people our social network diminishes. As a psychologist we often make things too complicated. As Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “the only way to have friends is to be one” and maybe this is a good place to start.
The nicer we are to people, the more interactive we are to people, the more likely that we are going to be liked by other people and this increases the chances that we are going to be friends with other people. So one of the things we should do is emulate Mr. Emerson when he said, the best way to be a friend, the best way to have a friend is to be one.
Let's look at some tips in order to develop friendships. First of all you want to ask yourself, why am I not invested in a social life? Again as a clinical psychologist people put -- they have difficulties with their priorities. They have so many priorities in life that sometimes we don’t take the time to do the things that we need to do and often as a result of that our friendships struggle.
Our friendships haven’t developed because we have not put the effort in and we have to remember that we are busy and other people are just as busy as we are. So it’s helpful if we organize a bit, develop a plan to increase your social and communication skills.
And assess these, how are your skills, are you good at making friends? Remember we don’t have the structure that we had in high school or college or in school that we actually had people around all day we could make friends. We have to leave our comfort zone a little bit to develop friendships and if we don’t have common friends in our neighborhood or our work is such that we are not working with people all the times, then it may be helpful to develop friends outside of those avenues.
For example, you may want to volunteer to provide a service. If you volunteer and you are with likeminded people that often helps you develop friendships. Take a class, join a club. For example, if you like playing tennis, join a tennis club and you will be with likeminded people that have similar interests. Often when we participate in our favorite activities, it is actually easy to develop friendships, because similar interest we have similar things to talk to but it is also important to keep it simple.
Sometimes it is helpful to invite a friend or a neighbor to go for a walk. It is important to choose healthy friendships. Friendships can bring out the best in us and also we can bring out the best in others. It's also true that negative friends can bring out the negative in us. So it is helpful to have healthy friends. When developing friends take a moment to pick some social risks, surround yourself with people who bring out the best in you, who challenge you a bit, but in order to do that we have to break out of our social fears and may be take a risk.
Introduce yourself and remember that we don't develop long-term friendships overnight. It takes a while. Social media today in some ways is a two edged sword. It allows us to reach out to people in many ways that we couldn't do just 10/15 years ago. On the other hand it creates a sort of distance, so while social networking is a way to introduce ourselves to other people and to connect friendships, it’s also important that we connect with people in real life as well. And what is important that social network is not a substitute for real friends and while it can enhance our friendships, we really need to go beyond that as well.
In taking social risks, it is important to extend an accept invitations. Now this is fairly obvious, but it is amazing to me how many of us turn down invitations because we're too busy, and all it takes is to turn down invitations a couple of times until people stop asking.
In 21st-century society, life is very complicated so one of the things that can be very helpful is to keep things simple. Let’s not complicate things and make things more stressful. So invite friends or neighbors over for potluck dinner, or create something that’s easy to serve.
Ask people to do little activities. At work take 15 minutes and go have a couple coffee or ask somebody to go for walk at lunch. When we do that we get to know people but it doesn’t put a lot of pressure on us and it doesn't put a lot of pressure on them taking 10/15/20 minutes out of our day at work.
Volunteer to help a neighbor with a project. Often when we work together developing projects is we get to know the person, we get to know their interests and that’s a good way of developing friendships.
If you find yourself isolated and not having friendships, it may be important to develop actually a plan to increase your social skills. Plan ahead. Invite people over this weekend, next weekend. Often we wait until Friday to make our weekend plans, by that time often people are too busy or too tired. So plan ahead and that also gives other people time to plan as well.
Use positive psychology to improve your social skills. What is positive psychology? Just quickly, positive psychology or positive thinking is really a process in which we focus our thoughts, words and images that are conducive to personal growth, that make us better people and help us to adapt to the world around us. Positive psychology or positive thoughts actually increases the chances of success. Remember, positive psychology is a positive frame of mind. And if we think positive things we are more likely to be successful.
There are really three fundamental aspects of positive thinking that -- if we look at the first thing is what are our positive thoughts, we can monitor those positive thoughts or negative thoughts, and we can alter them. For example, if a negative thought would be—I just can't socialize and make friends, but if we look at that and analyze that, that's not going to lead to success. A positive reframe of that is, if I keep at it, practice and stay focused, I will get better at socializing and eventually make friends and you think about that, it really make sense.
So negative cognitions or negative thought process is something that I can't do where positive is something that I can do. So take a look at your thoughts and see if there are ways you could change those to increase the chances that you will be successful.
Other ways to improve friendships; there are many ways. Make a commitment to nurturing friendships. As I said a little bit earlier, while friendships are important we have to nurture both existing friendships and new friendships.
First of all, be a good listener. Most of us in communication are so busy talking about us, we forget to listen to what the other person is saying and when we get to be a good listener, that's often how we get to understand people around us.
Avoid high expectations, meaning that sometimes friendships are just simple. That work colleague that we see every morning and may have a cup of coffee with that we—because of where we live and the person may live the friendship may be exclusive to work, but that's OK. Our neighbor that we have myriad interactions with, but the friendship just stays at that level.
So what is important is to understand that each friendship is unique, and it's a variety these friendships that add to our lives. Our neighbors are often very busy and a result of that often they are not able to give more than a few moments everyday. So it's important to recognize that we have a variety of friends and don't high expectations on all of them. Take the friends what they are.
Don't make assumptions. We all make assumptions about other people. Some of those assumptions are true and some of those are inaccurate. So take some time to get to know people. Focus on your friend's positive traits rather than on the negative.
One of the things we want to do is to eliminate the drama in our lives. Most of us don't want to live in a soap opera. Most of us don't want our lives to be like some of the TV shows. So it's important to recognize that if we focus on positive aspects of our friendships what we actually do is reduce the drama and actually increase the chance of friendships.
Show your appreciation and support and be supportive. How many times at the holidays can we give out holiday cookies or something like that, or when during the winter help them shovel snow, during the spring help them mow their lawn or whatever, what are the things that we can do to our neighbors that can show appreciation and show support?
Think back to the times in your own life where sometime somebody did something simple for you and that enhanced your friendship. Give each other space whether at work, we often may ask somebody if they want to go for a cup of coffee and they are busy right now, and not to over interpret give them the space and a nice balanced friendship is very important.
Plan activities if you both enjoy; to find people like interest and that's important. If we connect with people like interest that will give us something to do with that person. It can be very helpful.
Be realistic about others. People have limited time as we do. Therefore they kept all the things that make good friendships. Sometimes they have different interests.
So the key there is to find common ground. Where do we connect with other people and one of the things we see at work, we all connect around work tasks, we all connect that we all have the same work, all we work for the same company.
And then in our neighbors, we all have a similar interest in maintaining our neighborhood. To look for points of connection with your neighbors and also plan fun activities that we both enjoy. As we get to know our work colleagues, as we get to know our neighbors what are the things in points of contact that we both enjoy and connect up on those levels.
And most of us do that anyway. If you play tennis you may have a tennis friend that you only play tennis with that person, but that's a point of connection. And our neighbors we can make, in our work colleagues we could also make this point of connection.
And finally, what's important to remember is having positive friends lead to social support. Social support increases our psychological resilience and psychological resilience improves our physical and psychologic health. It improves your coping skills and it makes our lives just a little bit easier.
When we are seeking new friends be open to others different from you. We don't move into neighborhoods where everybody is our same age, our same gender, our same work, our same interests.
So move away from your comfort zone and develop friends that have different interests. While it's obviously easier to connect with people who have similar interests, we may have people that have new interest that we would like to enjoy. We don't maintain the same interests our entire life. We change things.
So sometimes you may want to join a book group if you have never done that, and challenge yourself by reading different books and discussing different books, than you had in the past.
As with any relationships friendships and supportive friendships take time to develop. Even think about your old friends. You may have known them for years and years and years, but the friendship didn't develop overnight. It may have started slowly. You sat next to them in English class. You slowly got to know this person overtime.
New friendships are very similar, except in today's world when we develop new friendships as adult, people are busy. People have other things to do, family responsibilities, home responsibilities, work responsibilities. So it may take a little bit more time. But it's also appropriate to nurture relationships. Connect up with people. Again, look at points of contact.
Take a look at your old friends. How many friends that you have that have greatly added to your life, but you haven’t contacted them for a while. In today's world it's very easy to send them an email or text, send them a picture on Facebook or Instagram. Take a moment to nurture old friends or reconnect with old friends as well.