The Art of Aging HAPPY

Raeleen Mautner, Ph.D.

The research is clear: social support through friendship—even more so than through family members, is related to greater life satisfaction as we grow older and may even lessen the impact of the health problems we commonly face. 

Friendships are voluntary, unlike relationships that we inherit through birth or blood. Friends are more likely to be our peers in age, and they are the people most turn to in confidence, about things we may not necessarily feel comfortable to discuss with relatives.

One challenge we face as we age, is that our circle of friends often dwindles, for any number of reasons, which might include taking different life paths, geographical distance, death, disagreements or simply lack of effort in maintaining contact. As with any close relationship, it takes time and effort to sustain established friendships; and if we want to make new friends, we must also call on the more extraverted dimension of our personality that prompts us to get out there into the world, start conversations, and follow through.

A few noteworthy points to consider:

  1. People who believe that finding friends is based on luck are lonelier than those who know it takes work and are willing to do that work.
  2. Be aware of a self-fulfilling prophecy—If you believe that you can never make new friends as you grow older, you probably will act –or not act–accordingly. 
  3. Consider the covert “avoidance” factor.  For example, you may give yourself a nudge to go out to an event, yet while there, you don’t really engage with others. 
  4. Change your perception if it is negative.  The more you see the people in your surroundings as welcoming and friendly ,the more they are likely to perceive you that way, too.
  5. Remember the “exposure effect”—People tend to like us more if they see us more! Just showing up to ongoing events (classes, workshops, lecture series, library talks at the same library, etc.) will foster the familiarity and positive regard needed to start new friendships.
  6. As with the research on successful romantic relationships, factors such as similarity of values, attitudes and beliefs may also play a role in “clicking” with new friends.
  7. When it comes to self-disclosure when meeting new people, remember to go slow and focus on reciprocity. Friendship is like a choreographed dance, based on give and take, and staying in step with each other. Little by little each person reveals a bit more about themselves from which emotional closeness can grow. 

Whether your goal is to reconnect with old friends, maintain ongoing friendships or expand your circle of friends by bringing new and interesting people into your life, the six principles in Dale Carnegie’s classic book “How to Win Friends and Influence People” are still valuable and worth adopting:

  1. Be genuinely interested in others 
  2. Smile
  3. Remember that person’s name—it is the most important sound for that person
  4. Be a good listener and encourage others to talk about themselves
  5. Talk in terms of the other person’s interests
  6. Make the other person feel important—and do it sincerely

Q. How do you maintain friendships and/or make new ones? Would love to read your comments below. Also, If you found this article useful, please share with those you care about, and do sign up to follow this site. Mille grazie.

References: 

Blieszner, R (2014). The worth of friendship: Can friends keep us happy and healthy? Journal of the American Society on Aging, vol 38, #1. 

Carnegie, D (1982) How to Win Friends and Influence People. New York: Pocket Books

Dumitrache, C.G; Rubio, L; & Rubio-Herrera, R (2018). Extroversion, social support and life satisfaction on old age: a mediation model. Aging & Mental Health, v22, issue 8. 

copyright Raeleen Mautner 2021

RaeleenMautner.com

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