Wednesday, July 30 is International Friendship Day. I can't resist a good list or an excuse to celebrate. So I was curious: Based on mindfulness and the psychology of flourishing, what would be my top five ideas for celebrating friendship? We all have so much to gain if we take a few moments out of our busy day and remind ourselves how much our friendships mean to us.
Why bother? Because every one of these exercises is so good for your well-being and that of your friends. How far this ripple effect continues could surprise you. It can even be good for people you may never meet!
You know without reading the research that friends are one of the things that make your life enjoyable and meaningful. You know that gorgeous warm feeling that you get when you connect with a friend -- it's like an inner glow is set in motion. Sometimes that warm feeling stays with you for the rest of the day -- if you let it!
1: Take in the Good When you think of your friends, what comes up? Do you think of a recent annoying conversation you had or something you appreciate about them? Both responses would be completely understandable but guess which one does you the most good? Yep, focusing on the positive. This is not about glossing over any tension or disagreement. Rather, it's saying that if you want to harness the power of positive emotions, deliberately looking for opportunities to "take in the good" of your friendships will solidly improve your well-being and resource you for the demands of your busy day. The brain is like Teflon for good and Velcro for bad so unless we consciously and mindfully make this choice, our brain is more likely to take us to the negative.
So, pause now, bring a friend to mind and reflect on what you appreciate about them. Let yourself feel good about that and let that feeling soak into your bones for 20-30 seconds. Any single time you do this will make only a little difference. But over time those little differences will add up, weaving positive experiences into the fabric of your brain and your happiness. (Rick Hanson introduced me to this idea during our interview for mindfulness4mothers).
2: Gratitude -- express it. You know that friend you were just appreciating in your mind? Call them. Tell them. Better yet, write them a gratitude letter and read it to them. I wrote about the power of this idea for Mother's Day letters,and it applies equally to well to friendships. A woman in one my classes reluctantly did this exercise with her best friend and even though they both knew how she felt, they finished in a tearful hug that warmed them both.
3: Connection -- foster it. Barbara Fredrickson offered an exercise in our mindfulness4mothers program that comes from her groundbreaking book Love 2.0 -- a great resource for developing more connection with others. This exercise invites people to reflect on their three longest interactions during the day, and to rate how close and "tuned in" they felt in all three. This simple reflection on "connection" raised people's positive emotions over time. If we reflect on the quality of our interactions, we are more likely to value them and invest in them and this in turn enhances our well being.
4: Connect to a friend today. Call them, catch up, make a date to have lunch together. Really tune in and listen mindfully to what they have to say, without an agenda and notice your well-being rise.
Here are some fast facts from Emma Seppala of Stanford University to convince you to invest in your friendships.
- Strong social connection predicts greater mental well-being, health, faster recovery from disease and even longevity.
- When you smile at someone, mirror neurons activate their smiling micromuscles and they are more likely to smile at others.
- Low social connection is worse for us than smoking, obesity and high-blood pressure.
5: Give a Friend a Gift. As this Greater Good article outlines: It makes you feel happy, it's good for your health, it promotes connection and cooperation, it stimulates gratitude on both sides and it's contagious -- you will get a good thing going for others in your community.
For our gift to you, email kellie@mindfulness4mothers.