Creating Closer Friendships

I’ve noticed as I’ve gotten older, close friendships are more difficult to forge and maintain. It seems the busyness of life and the priority of kids, partners and careers slides friendships by the wayside.

To this day, I consider the friends with whom I spent the front-nine of life my closest. We send annual birthday and holiday cards in addition to the quick Instagram check-ins, but we rarely see each other in person or talk on the phone.

But, a few years ago, when my dad suffered a subdural hematoma and four subsequent brain surgeries, guess who showed up at the hospital to console and feed me? Yep, those precious front-nine friends. As shallow as my friendships seem to have become, it’s clear the roots run deep.

Recently, I learned about Greater Good in Action, a collaboration between UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and HopeLab. They partnered to develop an über-resourceful site to teach us how to increase closeness and lead more meaningful lives. Let me simply say, it’s a gold mine for those wanting to up their well-being game.

“True friends are those rare people who come to find you in dark places and lead you back to the light.”

—steve aitchison

Opportunities to create friendships and increase closeness depend on how we structure our lives. We formulate schedules to organize our families and better ourselves through workouts, etc. But, before we know it, there’s no space to pencil-in friendships.

Meanwhile, society is urging us to raise well-rounded kids, create a beautiful home, sex it up, have an admirable career, stay fit, be social media relevant, and do it all with a whitened smile. And when it’s time to release our exhaustion with a good long cry, we yearn for the friends from whom we’ve distanced.

One-third of the U.S. is experiencing clinical symptoms of anxiety and depression, according to the Center for Disease Control. It doesn’t take a study to show we’re missing connection during these extraordinary times and we’re grappling with how to nurture friendships and increase closeness. Toss the current political and racial divisiness into the mix and we’re a seriously disjointed people.

So, if we’re missing the closeness of friendship, whether from responsibility, distance, the pandemic or societal divisiveness, how do we proactively narrow the gap? This is where Greater Good in Action comes into play. UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and HopeLab combined scientific studies with research-based methods to teach us how to increase closeness and lead more meaningful lives.

Normally, you would conduct the activity in-person, but, pandemic times call for virtual measures. So, we begin by visiting Greater Good in Action. We plan a Google Hangout or Zoom call with someone we want to connect with on a deeper level. You could even coordinate with someone within your domestic bubble. Then, we alternate asking questions GGA provided.

Here are a few examples:

1.  Is there anything you would change about how you were raised?

2.  If a crystal ball could tell you the truth about something, what would you want to know?

3.  If you knew you would die within a year, what if anything would you change about the way you’re living now?

Friendships require consistent check-ins, story swaps, thoughtful questions and  attentive listening. It’s time we move past the small talk and take a deeper, more vulnerable dive into each other’s lives. Sharing honesty, trust, empathy, non-judgement and just what the doctor ordered. —xo