If you had to pick one single element to a happy life, what would you pick? According to many ancient philosophers and modern scientists, the most essential key to happiness is strong relationships with other people.
Many different kinds of relationships contribute to our happiness, and one of the most important is our friendships. My happiness-project resolutions aimed at friendship include “Cut people slack,” “Show up,” “Make three friends,” “Bring people together,” “Remember birthdays,” “No gossip,” and “Say hello.”
Here are some psychological terms and principles that I’ve found helpful as I’ve been trying to build and strengthen my friendships.
1. Triadic closure. In a phenomenon called “triadic closure,” people tend to befriend the friends of their friends – and this is very satisfying. Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network. I now make much more of an effort to help my friends become friends with each other, and to befriend friends’ friends.
2. Smiling. As obvious as it seems, studies do show that we’re perceived as more friendly when we smile more (it also helps to have an expressive face, to nod, to lean forward, to have a warm tone). The sheer amount of time smiling makes a very big difference on perceived friendliness.
3. The mere exposure effect. Familiarity breeds affection. The “mere exposure effect” describes the fact that repeated exposure makes people like music, faces — even nonsense syllables — better. Because of the “exposure principle,” the more often a person sees another person, the more intelligent and attractive that person will be ranked. So it’s helpful for friendship to put yourself in situations where you’ll see the same people over and over.
4. Fundamental attribution error. The fundamental attribution error is a psychological phenomenon in which we tend to view other people’s actions as reflections of their characters, and to overlook the power of the situation to influence their action. I assume that the guy in the drugstore is an inconsiderate jerk because he rushed ahead of me to get to the counter, when in fact, he’s very considerate, and he’s rushing to get home with the medicine for his sick girlfriend. It’s always a good idea to give people the benefit of the doubt when they dos something that rubs you the wrong way.
What strategies have you used to help strengthen your friendships? Have any of these psychological terms played a role in your relationships?
The days are long, but the years are short.