How to Make and Keep Friends

Jade Weston
February 10, 2023
How to make and keep friends

There’s more and more data showing that if you want to be happy, the most important thing in life is the quality of your relationships. In the midst of a holiday that would have you focus all your attention on your romantic partner (if you have one), we think it’s worthwhile to put some focus on friendships. 

On the Ten Percent Happier podcast, Dan recently spoke with Dr. Marisa G. Franco, who has written a bestselling book about how understanding your own psychological makeup can help you make and keep friends. Franco is a psychologist and a professor at the University of Maryland. Her book is called Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make–and Keep–Friends. Here are a few key ideas from their conversation. 

Loneliness is bad for your health

We’ve known for a while that diet and exercise can affect how long you live, but what is becoming increasingly clear from the research is that your relationships are an even stronger determinant of your lifespan. 

Loneliness puts us on high alert for threats, because we’ve evolved to thrive in community. So lacking social support changes our perception of the world around us. We become less compassionate, more defended, and may even start to feel negatively about other people as a whole. In other words: being lonely is stressful! 

If you feel lonely, you’re not…well, alone. In the last decade, subjective reports of loneliness have soared.

How to make friends

Making and keeping friends can be hard. Dr. Franco has some tips:

  1. Don’t beat yourself up

If you think your friendship game is weak compared to others, you’re in the majority. Research shows that we tend to think other people are more connected than they actually are, which makes us feel even more alienated. Be kind to yourself if you’re holding any shame or embarrassment around the state of your social life.

  1. Put yourself out there

Making friends as an adult is hard–especially since some of our ways of life have changed since the pandemic. You might think friendships will organically materialize, but more often the truth is that you need to put yourself out there. Face your fear of rejection, and take initiative. Is there someone in your sphere you’d like to get to know better? Tell them so! Ask if they’d like to get a cup of coffee or (insert casual social date of your choice). 

  1.  Be authentic

We often assume that, if we’re honest, people will judge us for our vulnerabilities. But one study found that the factor that most protects our mental wellbeing is having a person we can confide in. 

When you express how you’re really doing—both the joys and the challenges—the person you’re sharing with gets to feel closer to you. Being real conveys that we like and trust someone, which can make them feel safe to open up in turn. (Of course, there is such a thing as oversharing or “dumping.” Listen to the podcast episode for more on that.) 

Finally, a pithy takeaway from Dr. Franco, which those of us with social anxiety may find helpful: “People might like you more than your brain is telling you.” 

This episode of the Ten Percent Happier podcast is available in our app, starting Febraury 13. Listen to our series on counterprogramming Valentine’s Day, including conversations on boundaries, family drama, and the science of heartbreak.

Jade Weston is a Senior Meditation Producer at Ten Percent Happier, where she has been designing courses to teach people how to bring mindfulness into their everyday life since 2019. She’s practiced meditation since 2009 and began teaching meditation in 2014.

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