Take a minute and think about your three or four dearest friends in the world (excluding your intimate life partner). Now be honest: When was the last time you had an in-depth, heartfelt conversation with each of them?
Yeah, when I asked myself this question about a year ago I was disappointed in my answer too. In fact, I was so startled and upset by my answer that I uninstalled Facebook from all of my personal devices. Since that time I’ve only visited the platform if I received a personal invitation to look at something specific. Note: I have a contractor who posts my blogs on social media so I can avoid engaging in those applications.
To be clear, I don’t judge anybody who uses Facebook. For many, it and similar platforms are an important source of community and connection. But for me, it was contributing to an illusion – that I was actually “in touch” with those about whom I care. I was not. Mostly I was scrolling through a world of people I did not recognize – with the occasional compelling shoe ad.
It took me a whole year to realize that leaving social media was just half of the equation. I realized, if I’m seeking more personal, authentic connections with the many people I care about I need to become less passive. I had to figure out a plan. In reading From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life by Arthur Brooks, I discovered some important ideas I’ve been working to put into practice:
Take stock of your friend circle.
You can think about your friends as a series of four concentric circles and ask: Who are the people in my life that occupy each circle? Beginning with the outer circle:
- Acquaintances: People who are in your network providing information, introductions, and low-investment interactions.
- Social Friends: People with whom you may share a community in common and with whom you have fun. Interactions are lighthearted and emotional investment is low.
- Intimate Friends: People you can always go to for advice, laugh together, and share good and bad news.They provide forms of fun, support, and encouragement you can rely upon.
- Soul Siblings: People who feel like your non-biological family. You can be your true self with them without judgment and count on them to show up unconditionally in your darkest moments.
Make a plan and commit the time to connect.
Lately, I’ve adopted a Sunday morning practice of writing down the names of a few people with whom I want to connect in person, via phone or by video. I reach out to these people during the week and ask for a specific time to catch up. This commitment means I’m going to divert time away from my work (yes, undermine my productivity) as a way to take a stand for the importance of these relationships in my life. After all, they will be around well beyond the conclusion of my career.
Commit to 20% more depth.
What would it look like to cut through the informational parts of conversations and move into more meaningful topics? With some friends it’s easy to divulge this level of depth and with others it takes a more conscious approach – more intentional questions. Consider going into moments of connection with some questions like these in your back pocket:
- What’s lighting you up these days? What’s challenging?
- What is supporting your happiness and wellbeing?
- What have you been discovering or learning that energizes and informs how you’re living your life?
In a seminal study on adult development, Harvard’s George Valliant found that the greatest predictor of late life happiness and wellness is (wait for it) the presence of stable long-term relationships in one’s life – friends with whom you can grow. And according to the research it doesn’t need to be a spouse or a life partner! It’s about having a few people you can count on and who know they can count on you in good times and bad. But as Arthur Brooks challenges us to think about (and please read his book): those who suffer from what he calls the “strivers curse” chronically neglect their relationships. So, what step will you take today to create or reclaim the circle of loved ones that supports your flourishing?
Image Credit: Sam McNamara on Unsplash