Are New Friends Worth the Energy Output Required?

I hear from a lot of women who feel defeated in their friendship search, or simply feel like it cannot be a priority in their lives right now.  Many mistakenly think that friendship is the thing to cut when their lives get busy, express feeling guilty for asking their husbands to watch the kids so they can go spend time with a girlfriend, or conclude that since friendships are not happening naturally in their lives that they somehow just need to learn to live without a circle of friends. Maybe you've been there before? Maybe you're there now? Today I just wanted to poke my head in your inbox with a bit of a reminder about that pay-off.  You know the risks.  You know the difficulty.  You know the challenges.  You know the excuses to say no and give up.  You know how weary you feel.  Give me a moment to remind you what you're investing in!

Energy Output: The Investment can be Exhausting

It's a paradox that the actions that take energy also tend to reward us with the most energy. In many life moments, higher investments lead to higher pay-offs.

I mean, the very act of going to the gym is tiring for the vast majority of us, but the pay-off is, ironically, more energy. Most of us don't sit at work feeling fulfilled by the daily tasks and mountains of emails, but the sum total of that output seems to create a sense of achievement and meaning.  I know just on a recreation level that it would be easier and more comfortable to sit on my couch tonight watching TV, but that if I attend to my women's business group, I'll actually come home more rejuvenated than any show could provide. I've learned that most things in life aren't the easiest default option, but they do tend to be worth the investment.  And friendship is simply one of those things-- less meaningful in the beginning and a greater source of energy output, but the payoff is exponential.

Energy Input: The Payoff can be Exponential

Gallup's latest research revealed in the book, Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements

shows that there are five universal, interconnected elements that together reveal your overall well-being.  Apparently, liking what you do every day (career wellbeing) is the most significant factor to your overall health and happiness, but guess what number 2 is? Yep, social wellbeing, also known as "Do you like who you're doing life with?"

While you have undoubtedly heard me quote all kinds of research about how important your circle of friends is to your life, the research just continues to inspire!

  • You're Influenced by Entire Network. Our wellbeing is impacted by our entire social network. You are 6% more likely to be happy if your friend's friend's friend--count them, three degrees removed!-- is happy. The reverse is just as true.
  • Friends Impact More Than money. Compare the above 6% increase to the 2% increase in happiness if your annual income goes up $10,000! "This led the study's authors to conclude that that the wellbeing of friends and relatives is a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money."
  • Your Health Prevention is at Stake. People with few social connections are at twice the risk of dying from heart disease or of catching a common cold (even though they're arguably exposed to more germs!)
  • Proximity Matters. A friend who lives within a mile will have way more positive influence on your wellbeing than friends across the country. (Why GFC advocates making local friends even though it's not as easy as picking up the phone to talk to your BFF in your hometown! It's worth it!)
  • Friendships Especially Important in Aging Well. One study showed that in adults over the age of 50, that their memories declined at half the rate if they were socially active compared to those who were least social.
  • You Need More than One BFF! Every additional close friendship adds to your wellbeing. "Our research has found that people who have at least three or four very close friendships are healthier, have higher wellbeing, and are more engaged in their jobs."
  • The More Time Invested, the Happier You Are:
    Every hour of daily social interaction increases your happiness by 10%!

    The data shows that to have a thriving day you need six hours of daily social time!  Six hours?!?!?! That even surprised me! Apparently regardless of personality types and other variables-- those who are thriving in life are reporting an average of six hours every day of connecting which can include: talking to friends, socializing at work, being on the phone, communicating on facebook, etc. Across the board, every hour of social connection added to your day increases your happiness almost 10%! (Isn't it ironic how easy it is to cancel on a friend when we've a bad day or skip out on socializing when we're depressed, when in actuality, that very act of connecting will raise our spirits?)

I know it's tiring.  I know.  I know it's discouraging at times, I know.

But I also know that this is one investment that promises the biggest pay-off to your overall happiness and health. No small thing!

May you be reminded that your willingness to engage, to meet new people, to initiate the next get-together, to schedule women into your life and to foster these friendships over time is proving to raise your wellbeing! And don't we all want that? ______________ * All research listed in this blog can be found in the chapter on Social Wellbeing in Gallup's latest book, Wellbeing by Tom Rath & Jim Harter. Purchasing their book provides a code for your access to take their Wellbeing Assessment.

My Four Friendship Failures

Yesterday I attended FailCon 2010, a conference for start-up companies that works off the premise that rather than listening to a whole bunch of presenters talk about success, that sometimes we learn more from failure. Their motto "Embrace Your Mistakes. Build Your Success." reminds everyone that failure is part of the process, something to respond to and learn from, rather than simply to be avoided. Love it! So in the spirit of failure, here are some mistakes I have made in my friendship journey and what I have learned from those moments.

  1. Mistake #1: Not Identifying My Need for More Friends. Before I moved to San Francisco I could honestly say that I had really good friends. Really, really good friends. And I had just re-married. Suffice it to say, I didn't move here feeling lonely. If anything, I moved here wondering how I could possibly stay in touch with all my good friends. But my mistake became more clear when I realized that no matter how amazing my friends are-- if they don't live near me then our entire relationship is dependent upon UPDATING each other on life rather than EXPERIENCING life together. I wasn't creating new memories with friends. Rather, I was reliving old ones, simply telling them about what I had done or worse, telling them all that I would like to do if I had someone to do it with me. For me, no mater how awesome my friends were, I needed local friends. What friends do you need to enhance your current life?
  2. Mistake #2: Choosing "Present Easy" Over "Future Meaningful." This mistake is still a temptation for me. When I first moved to San Francisco, it was WAY more easy and meaningful to call a far-away friend and tell them about my day than it was to go grab drinks with potential friends. The former required nothing of me except being curled up on the couch with my phone. The latter required me to figure out logistics, travel to get somewhere/take up my whole evening and it took so much more energy to be "on." The former felt good since she could affirm who I was, whereas the latter often felt exhausting since we were sizing each other up. If given the choice-- it was easy to see why I chose the phone friend. But the truth is, if my goal is to have meaningful friends close by then I simply have to put in the time (even if it's not as fun up front) to build that bond. Like exercise, it will always feel better to sit on the couch than to drag my butt to the gym-- but only one of those options will lead me to my future goal.
  3. Mistake #3: Expecting my Strengths From Others. I'm really good at asking people questions. I'm really good at affirming and expressing value in people. I'm really good at being honest and going deep with people. So it's easy for me to walk away from a conversation or time with friends (or potential friends) and judge them on the things I do well. I'll say to myself "they did almost all the talking, they never asked me any questions" and feel put-off that I gave my best and it wasn't reciprocated. But now, I understand love languages, strengths and preferences better. I have learned to see where my friends are MUCH BETTER than I am at things that are super meaningful. She's much better at offering to help do favors. She's much better at calling me regularly and staying in touch. She's much better at not judging me. She's much better at seeing what I'm possible of and not letting me settle for less. She's much better at telling jokes. And just as I'd hate to be crossed off their list because I don't do their strengths well, I want to go into friendships not expecting us to be 50/50 in each thing, rather to allow for mutuality to come from the whole package, not each trait. Now if she forgets to ask about my life-- I'll just volunteer it. :)
  4. Mistake #4: Treating All Friends Equally. I know a lot of people and now have a lot of friends. Which means that if I had one night a week set aside for girlfriends and rotated a different friend each week then it could be a couple of months before I saw the same one again. One mistake that some of us busy, scheduled and social women make is to see all our friends as a big group we need to tend to, when in fact no one can keep up meaningfully with that many people. Now, I have 4 women that I consider my closest friends which means that I will give more to them than to others. They get priority. Two of them live a long ways away so I commit to calling them daily/weekly even though there are other women I love that I haven't talked to in a while. And two of them live locally which means they get priority when my schedule gets full. They trump the larger group. It ensures that I have some friends that really know my life, can interact with me in meaningful ways and that I have committed to be mindful of their lives. So by all means I want to stay connected to all 20, but these 4 get the regularity!

Clearly, I am far from the perfect friend.

Just as the CEO's and presenters at the conference yesterday are far from perfect. We all make mistakes. We all bring our wounds, habits, fears and tendencies to the relationship. We all get busy and forget.

Two imperfect people who make mistakes can't have a perfect friendship. We'll be disappointed by each other. But let's be the kind of friends that learn from those moments! I want to show up in a way that affirms my friends for loving me despite my lack and more importantly, to love them despite theirs.

To our failures! For isn't that where true friendship is found anyhow? Where we find the people who know us and who love us anyway. :)

------------- p.s. I'll make more mistakes as CEO of GirlFriendCircles too. Thanks for loving me anyhow and staying on the journey as we try to make it as easy as possible for each other to step into new friendships!