Whether you have two friends or 20, you probably care about nurturing your friendships. But it’s easy for outside forces to get in the way, especially in college, when you may be managing 15 credits with a part-time job. We have crazy deadlines and stay up late working on assignments, and we work late on the weekends to make enough money to pay for the degree we are trying so desperately to achieve.
Being busy or not talking to our friends every day doesn’t make us bad friends, but it’s not uncommon to want to be a better friend and for good reason.
A study by Matthias R. Mehl, a psychology professor at The University of Arizona, found that what separates the happiest 10 percent of the population from everyone else is the strength of their social bonds. People with strong social support are happier, live longer, and even catch fewer colds.
So what can we do to strengthen our friendships?
Take a walk in their shoes. It’s easy to get impatient with Brenda, who is always running 10 minutes late, or Chad, who always seems like he’s trying to upstage you.
That’s where empathy comes in: Consider what it’s like to be your friend. What challenges might they face?
Research shows that practicing perspective-taking builds empathy, which can improve relationships and make us more compassionate and understanding – a quality that every good friend should have.
Another simple thing we can do is savor good memories. Sometimes all it takes to strengthen the bond is a reminder of past good times. Going through photos from a memorable time you enjoyed together.
In a study done by Fred B. Bryant, a psychology professor at Loyala University Chicago, they found that this type of sharing memories improves our well-being and helps foster positive social interactions by bringing us closer. In college, it’s so easy to be too busy to see a friend, but even sending a text of an old picture can be a nice reminder that you still care.
Know it’s okay to not agree on everything. You can be friends with someone who has different political beliefs, who doesn’t love your favorite TV show, who thinks Sean Mendes is garbage. Different perspectives make life interesting. In college – or anywhere, really, it’s rare to find someone who is exactly like you in every aspect, so expecting that is only going to leave you disappointed.
Know yourself. Self-awareness is a very useful tool in all human interactions. When we have attempted to understand the impact of our own behavior, we won’t be surprised when our mistakes are the root of a problem.
Self-awareness requires more than just the willingness to turn a critical eye inward. We really have to be able to accept what we see, and work to improve it. The one thing that all of your relationships have in common is you.
Think about it: When interacting with a friend doesn’t result in you constantly having to take responsibility for everything they do, you’re going to want to spend more time with them.
Healthy friendships are hard work. But when you care about someone, sometimes putting in a little extra effort is worth it. Any relationship we have with anyone is going to have its trials and tribulations – and when we overcome these trials we’re better for it and so is the relationship. Being a good friend isn’t always easy, but recognizing that makes us just a little bit better.