Here’s something you may have missed last week: the annual observance of New Friends Day (October 19th). I know every day of the year is a National Day of something random, and many of them are hardly worth noticing, but this one jumped out at me. New Friends Day is defined as the day to remember to make room for new connections in your life. Aside from the social media type, this is a practice that most of us may not put a whole lot of thought or effort into exploring. I suspect some of you may say: “New Friends?! I’ve got more friends than I can even keep track of now!” If you do find yourself in the fortunate category of having such a rich and full social network that you have no room or desire for more than, great for you! Hang in there for a minute, though, because there is a mission, should you choose to accept it, ideally suited for you: the friend-making over-achiever.
For those of you who like the idea of expanding your circle of connections, let’s look at some solid reasons for taking steps to make that happen.
First and foremost, having friends make us healthier. At this point, there’s ample evidence shown by the thousands of participants in various studies that increasing our engagement with a social network brings significant health benefits. Lowered blood pressure, decreased risk of obesity, increased immunity, and reduced stress levels, to name some of the major headlines. That last one is particularly significant as chronic stress is linked to a long list of things you want no part of, including heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, sleep disorders, and increased cancer risk.
If friendships make us healthier, it’s no surprise that the data is also conclusive that the opposite holds true. Feelings of loneliness and isolation are widely believed to be contributing factors to a shorter life span. Brigham Yong University conducted a meta-analysis of 108 different studies that represented approximately 308,000 participants to study the effects of strong social connections. Skipping right to the bottom line, the results showed that people with strong social relationships were 50% more likely to survive the duration of the studies than those with weak social connections. This increased mortality rate was concluded to be the equivalent of a 15 cigarette a day habit and double the mortality rate of obesity. Social Relationships and Mortality Risk: A Meta-analytic Review (plos.org)
Steven Cole, Ph.D. at the University of California, sums up isolation and loneliness as a “biologically toxic environment that leaves us feeling chronically threatened, an emotion that wears on our immune system.”
So that’s not good.
Reading studies is easy, but the more challenging question for some is how to go about broadening their social network and adding some new friends into their life.
One suggestion comes from my daughter Riley. As usual, 12 year old’s seem to have the gift of endless thoughtful ideas that are not overburdened with complications and inspired with their ease of doing. Riley suggests carving a pumpkin for someone and roasting the removed seeds for them to go along it. A seasonal and straightforward conversation starter for anyone in your life you would like to get to know better, whether that be neighbor, colleague, or someone you see in passing but would like to know better. Another approach to finding the perfect pumpkin recipient, take 5 minutes to scroll through the contacts in your phone, and you’ll likely see a name or two of people that it’s been way too long since you spoke with and are overdue to catch up. They would surely love to hear from you and your invitation to meet for a fall pumpkin gift (and the accompanying healthy snack).
Here are some other approaches to adding some more connections into your social circle:
Local community events (here in the Lehigh Valley, there are plenty of online listings, and the weekly PennyPower includes them along with the weekend section in the Morning Call
Revisiting or pursuing old interests via a local club or class
Church or faith services
Meetup.com has local groups of seemingly every interest imaginable, easily searchable by zip code.
Volunteering to help at local organizations
I’m going to expand on this last option for a minute and come back to the start of this. For those of you who already have plenty of friends, your volunteer service is needed just as much (the earlier mentioned mission, should you choose to accept!)
Not only is volunteering your time a surefire way to meet new people, but it serves double duty as helping those who need it most.
For one-stop shopping on what local opportunities need assistance, you can visit the Volunteer Center of Lehigh Valley at Volunteer Center of Lehigh Valley (volunteerlv.org) and put in your zip code to see the closest options. You can also enter keywords and sort that
way if there is something specific you would like to get involved with.
I would also suggest Big Brothers Big sisters of the Lehigh Valley as a fantastic option. (Full disclosure: I serve on the Board of Directors and have a biased opinion of how incredible the organization is and how meaningful the volunteers’ ongoing impact on the hundreds of kids’ lives that are part of the program).
There are plenty of local young people on a list awaiting matches with their future Big Brother or Big Sister, and your contribution of time and involvement in their lives will be a life changer as much for you as it is for them.
As a parting thought, it’s important to remember that each of us is the CEO of our own life. With that in mind, forming our personal Board of Directors of people we trust for their wisdom, insights, and advice is a powerful approach to achieving our goals and reaching our full potential. Having people in your life that inspire you, elevate your thinking and motivate you to pursue your best self is an approach that is sure to keep you on the path of continuous progress. At the same time, never forget that each day brings brand new opportunities for you to do a simple act that brightens someone else’s life. Positive feedback, a genuine compliment, a quick text to say hello, even a knock-knock joke for your Amazon delivery person! Small gestures that have significant impacts on
you and the other person.
Here's wishing you and your family a happy and fun Halloween weekend!