When it comes to finding happiness, relationships certainly matter, but a casual friendship is not enough to make a difference. A study performed by psychologists Ed Diener and Martin Seligman showed that the happiest people had close friends, strong family relationships, and romantic relationships.7 Unhappy people spend more time alone and have social relationships that are worse than average.
Research also shows that it is not the number of relationships that matter, but the quality of the relationships. Friends are a great support system; they help us celebrate the good times and weather the tough times. It has been shown that a strong social network is also associated with lower levels of stress and a longer life span. This network should be the old fashioned kind rather than one that's virtual on a Web site such as Facebook or MySpace.
Establishing meaningful friendships takes time and work. If you don't currently have a network of friends, you need to get out there and put yourself in a position to meet new people. Everyone you meet isn't going to become a friend, but the more people you encounter, the greater the likelihood that you will find a match. Listen to your gut. Sometimes you can tell right away if someone gives off positive or negative vibes. Don't prejudge people before giving them a chance to speak for themselves; but if you are getting a bad feeling about a person right from the beginning, it is more likely than not that this uneasiness is warranted, and you should proceed with caution.
Meaningful friendships take time. Our lives have gotten progressively busy, and many social opportunities exist, from ballroom dance classes to online chatting or participating in advocacy groups. It is easy to fill up your calendar with many less important things so that there is little time left to spend with those who mean the most to you. This has happened in my own life. I recognized it recently and decided to change. My best friend from college has been like a brother to me for many years. We stayed together over the summer, traveled to each other's homes throughout the year, and spoke either in person or on the phone almost every day. Then life happened: marriage, kids, jobs. Our communication diminished drastically, and we were seeing each other only once or twice a year.
I brought this to his attention recently, and we both lamented how life's routine had squeezed out many of the things that mattered most to us, such as our spending time together and enjoying the special bond we shared. We agreed on the spot that at least once a year we would take a trip together— just the two of us, no families involved. Whether it would be hiking the Rockies, sitting on a beach in California, or visiting the Louvre in Paris, we would rekindle our friendship and give our relationship the time it deserved. Some of the happiest moments in my life have been sitting across the table from my friends, chatting about the silliest and most random things that come to mind. Nothing can replace the deep personal connections that make us feel good about ourselves and others.