As kids, we are given lots of chances to make close friendships, whether it’s at school, daycare, or making friends with the next-door neighbors. When we get older our chances of making new friends start to look a little different. You can make friendships at work, in volunteer groups, and shared hobbies or interests.
Family and work obligations can often make it difficult to spend as much time with these friends as we may have when we were younger. Just because our time is more limited as adults, doesn’t mean our friendships are any less important! In fact, therapists stress that close friendships become even more important as we age, especially into retirement.
Once a person retires or their lives change to a mostly at-home environment such as a stay-at-home parent, they can easily lose important aspects of their social lives. Everyday things like talking to coworkers about shared interests and making impromptu lunch plans can be missed. There’s evidence that loneliness in these situations can cause real, physical illnesses in addition to affecting mental health.
One thing researchers agree on is that a person’s number of friends doesn’t make the difference in feeling lonely. Rather, it’s about the quality of the connection. It’s ok to have just a handful of close friends you enjoy talking to and spending time with. These connections outside of the family can be an important lifeline when things get tough. And they can boost you up when things are going well!
If you are finding it difficult to connect with other people, don’t be afraid to look for social interaction in places like volunteer groups, neighborhood associations, or even a religious congregation. Exchange contact information with the people you meet and see if they want to get together for a cup of coffee, or for socially-distant options, a video chat happy hour! Just a few quality friendships can add years to our lifespans and keep us healthy.