Thirty-six percent of Americans say they are “seriously lonely.” For many people, the solution may seem to be to go out and get more friends.
Yet one study shows that when it comes to friendships, less is more.
“Loneliness has less to do with the number of friends you have, and more to do with how you feel about your friends,” study author Wändi Bruine de Bruin, PhD, of the University of Southern California, said. “If you feel lonely, it may be more helpful to make a positive connection with a friend than to try and seek out new people to meet.”
Rather than spreading yourself thin with many surface-level relationships, you’ll likely benefit more by dedicating time to a select few high-quality relationships.
But how do you decide which friendships to invest in and which to let go of? No one likes to lose friends, after all. The answer is to filter your friendships based on your values.
Here are three intelligent ways to guide your friendship choices.
First, Define What “Being A Good Friend” Means
What are values, anyway?
I define values as traits of the kind of person you want to become.
Nobody acts in accordance with their values all the time. We’re human, after all, and we’re bound to do things we later regret. But it’s vital to know what attributes you strive to embody.
When it comes to our friendships, the tricky part is that some people define the same values differently.
For instance, many people value “being a good friend,” but what defines that attribute may look different depending on who you ask.
For example, one person might say being a good friend means being available, which means responding right away to every text message. Someone else may believe that a good friend is someone who is fully present and would not look at their phone in the middle of enjoying a meal together.
Which of those two people do you find yourself reflected in? Would you be annoyed if a friend checked their phone while spending time with you, or would you be the person checking their phone out of fear that someone needs you?
Other values we might seek in our friends (and in ourselves) include kindness, generosity, and being a good listener.
Spend a few minutes figuring out what being a good friend means to you so you can both fulfill that role and find it in other people.
Next, Seek Friends with Mutual Values
Sometimes our values change. While our friends don’t always need to have the same values as we hold, it’s important that our friends make us better, rather than hold us back.
Recently, I spoke with a recovered alcoholic who said he lost decades-old friendships when he decided to stop drinking.
Those friends didn’t share his values of living what he believed was a healthier lifestyle. His old value of always being up for a late-night bender with his buddies evolved into making more time for his kids and himself.
The change wasn’t easy, but it was necessary to become the person he wanted to be. We don’t necessarily need to have the same interests as our friends, but we do need to have values that mesh. Our friends’ values can’t clash with or inhibit our own.
It’s important to note that we don’t always have to agree with our friends. Values are not synonymous with viewpoints. You can maintain friendships with people who don’t share your politics, for instance—as long as you both share the values of seeking understanding, keeping an open mind, and arguing constructively.
Finally, Book Time with Your Most Important Friendships
Choosing your own values and ensuring your friends’ values don’t conflict are critical steps to picking quality relationships. But equally, if not more importantly, we must pick friends who have as much interest and time to put into the relationship as we do.
We all have that fun-loving friend who is the life of every party. But entertainment value isn’t enough if we seek to build a strong relationship with a friend. We need people we can count on to be available. When it comes to relationships, as with many things in life, consistency is more powerful than intensity.
I put this idea into practice with my three closest friends. For a while, we tried and failed to stay in touch while balancing our busy lives. We started drifting apart. A few years ago, while I was researching relationships for a chapter in my book, Indistractable, I asked each of them how they felt about scheduling a regular time to talk every month.
Of course, we can always be spontaneous and connect anytime, but we needed a regular recurring time on our schedules when we knew we would talk.
Of course, my friends could have said “no thanks,” that they didn’t like the idea of planning that far in advance for a phone call. But they all eagerly agreed. Now I have space for each of them in my timeboxed calendar, scheduled every month in perpetuity. No more falling out of touch or wasting time finding the time.
If someone doesn’t have the availability to connect with you regularly, then they may not be a great fit for you, even if they’re a great person. They just might not want to create the kind of deep relationship you’re looking for. That’s fine! Consider it a poor fit and move on.
Overall, having just a few good friends is better than having many superficial ones. You can take all that time you would have spread among a large network and invest it in the people who really matter to you.
Don’t be afraid to filter out the friends who don’t fit your values and instead keep the ones who can make time for you. You, and your relationships, will be stronger for it.
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