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How to build stronger friendships in 2019

Still searching for a New Year's resolution?

  • Blog
  • 1st Jan 2019

You’ve got a friend in me
When the road looks rough ahead
And you’re miles and miles from your nice warm bed
You just remember what your old pal said
Boy, you’ve got a friend in me

It’s traditional for behavioural science blogs to take the opportunity of the first of January to offer you advice on how to meet your new year’s resolutions, whatever they might be. If you’d like that kind of advice, we can recommend this post.

But this year, if you’ve yet to decide on any resolutions, we’d like to suggest that you invest in friendship.

The fact that friendship matters goes without saying. Our friends are the ones who get us through tough times, cheer us on until the final mile, and make any victory all the sweeter. If you want references (this is the BIT blog after all), stronger friendships have been found to improve our sense of well-being and our physical health. But apparently, three-quarters of us do not see friends as often as we’d like.

Sadly, small frictions – even as simple as needing to pick up the phone – can get in the way of us maintaining the friendships that matter to us. When we see people every day, at work or at university, for example, friendship can blossom. But what happens when we move towns, jobs or graduate?

Absent friends are less visible, so naturally less salient to us. And whilst we may realise the benefits of maintaining old friendships, those benefits might be realised in the future. In the short-run, the person next to us is the one who can join us at the pub.

But lest we forget, it’s our old friends who know us the best – after all, they helped to shape who are are. Research at Dartmouth College in the United States shows that our freshman roommates can influence not just our choice of second year accommodation, but our grades, our choices of musical instrument, and the other friends we make after that. We form friendships based on our tastes, but we also form our tastes based on our friendships.

At this time of year, when we’re looking to mend our ways for the coming year, we should also remember those friends are still able to influence us to do the right thing.

Friendships can be helped along by even the smallest of acts. If you’ve got the joy of talking to someone face-to-face, put your phone away or you’ll build less trust through the conversation. And giving someone the occasional gift can show them you care, whilst also lowering your blood pressure.

Some of BIT’s most exciting work over the last few years has shown how simple changes can be used to leverage existing friendships or help people to make new friends, with massive payoffs. Our study supporter programme, now delivered in 100 schools through our Promptable platform, increases GCSE pass rates by 20% by encouraging more conversations between students and their supporters. Networky, our venture that helps people make new friends before they begin a new experience, has had more than 50,000 users in 2018.

So, as you begin the new year, why not pick up the phone to someone you meant to call last year and didn’t get around to speaking to. Make a public commitment to investing in several such relationships this year. As one of us prepares to depart for BIT’s Singapore office, we’ll be joining you in that pact.

Here’s wishing you a happy, friendly, 2019.