The research is consistent: Having friends adds to our well-being. On any number of health indexes, we’re better off if we have friends. Sociability benefits our minds, bodies and spirits.
Older adults are less lonely than other age groups—especially teens and young adults—but we have to face another reality: The number of our friends shrinks steadily as we age. We who are older need to make new friends.
I’m blessed by just enough friends—a loose category that works just fine—to satisfy my need and desire to be around other people. Here’s how I think that happens for me—some of it on purpose and the rest of it by happenchance.
Friendships start slowly: Any relationship starts small and grows. Bits and pieces of casual conversation grow into longer sharing. An occasional coming-together becomes more regular. Surface-level acquaintances deepen gradually into familiarities.
One relationship leads to another: When I’ve found a friend, that person is usually connected to others. As time goes on, the number of our mutual friends increases. Singular bonds coalesce into alliances.
New settings yield new friendships: Chris and I are part of an older adult exercise group at our local park district. Our initial fellowship with other exercising seniors gradually led to discovery of affinities—For example, during the last election, we found others who agreed with our political persuasions. The shared experience of physical exercise is the foundation for longer conversations before and after our exercise routines. Now the class seems like a group of friends.
Reaching out isn’t all that tricky: My friend-finding is rooted in simple matters like introducing myself to a newcomer, working alongside another volunteer, helping a stranger, traveling to new place or sharing a meal. The key to friend-finding is engaging in an appreciative conversation—learning just enough about another person to find the similarities that might later bind us together into a friendship.
Friends work and play together: My best and most-enduring friendships develop when I’m working or playing alongside someone else—a project, physical labor, an enjoyable event or an emergency. Shared work, play or adversity seem to bind us together pretty quickly. And the longer or more often we are together, the deeper the friendships.
Complete compatibility isn’t always necessary: Some of my friends are unlike me, which may be why we get along. Our one or two matching qualities may be just enough to hold us together while we delight in each other’s unique interests, qualities or quirks.
Church is a good place to start, but not the only place: For years, I found and maintained friendships only with people in our church—the core of my professional and personal life. As I’ve grown older and explored other lifestyle settings, I’ve made friends in political work, our neighborhood, that older adults exercise group, our Sierra Nevada summer community, volunteer opportunities, and with shirt-tail relatives in other parts of the country.
New friends show up all the time: New folks enter already-existing social circles, each person a possible new friend. Our church is a good example—new pastor and family, new visitors, new committee members. New neighbors and new relatives appear regularly. Finding friends may just be a matter of getting to know the new people who may eventually become new friends!
Friendships can be at the heart and soul of God’s work—to bless and care for humanity. As we find friends—and hold onto them dearly—we can become Good News—another way to describe well-being!