hearts
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Hi there,

Happy February! With Valentine’s Day right around the corner, we are reporting from peak romance season. My local drugstore is filled with more unjustifiably heart-shaped objects than I can shake a stick at. And look, that’s all well and good. But today, I want to put the spotlight on another, underrated kind of relationship: friendship

Let me be very clear: I consider myself to be a big romantic. I love love. But I also love my friends—and it bothers me so much that platonic bonds tend to get short shrift. 

It’s often taken for granted that our romantic relationships exist at the top of the “relationship hierarchy.” But friendships can be some of the most formative connections in our lives. It’s not just me saying that: research shows that strong friendships promote better physical and mental health. And on the flip side, it’s well established that loneliness is bad for our health.

All of that said, our culture seems to be in kind of a weird place vis-à-vis friendship. The pandemic has profoundly reorganized our social circles, and some experts are warning that we’re in the middle of a “friendship recession,” with more adults than ever before reporting that they have few or no friends. 

In today’s newsletter, we’re looking at why friendship is so important, why so many of us are struggling to maintain friendships, and what we can do about it. We hope you enjoy! 

Until next time,
Katie and your platonic pals @ TDL

📧 Come here often? No? Why not??? Sign up for the TDL newsletter here and maybe I’ll see you around sometime 😉

Today’s topics 👀
🧠 Deep Dive: Your Brain on Friendship
🎧 Field Notes: Paul Dolan on the “Good Life” (Podcast)

🫂 Viewpoints: The “Friendship Recession” (and How to Fix It) 

DEEP DIVE
🧠 Your Brain on Friendship

+ Friendships protect our physical health—even more than romantic relationships do. In one Swedish study, middle-aged men were significantly less likely to suffer from coronary heart disease if they had a circle of friends. Meanwhile, having a life partner was not found to have a significant effect. 

+ Friendships might change our brain circuitry. One review found that early experiences of friendship were linked to increased functioning in brain areas associated with dopamine. That might mean that people who grow up with more friends become more motivated to seek out reward in its various forms—whether that means seeking out more socialization, going after promotions at work, chasing high-octane entertainment, or something else. 

+ Our friends are huge influences on us (for better and for worse). It won’t come as a surprise to learn that our friends affect our beliefs, habits, and identities—but their influence might be greater than you realize. Researchers have coined the term “vicarious dissonance” to describe how people sometimes change their attitudes and beliefs to match those of their peers, even if doing so contradicts their stated values. 

🎧 FIELD NOTES: Paul Dolan on the “Good Life” (Podcast)

What does it mean to live the “good life”? Does it mean having a successful career? Marriage and kids? Owning a house? 

All too often, we end up chasing particular narratives of what happiness looks like. Friendship often takes a backseat to whatever goal we’ve decided will give us the “perfect life,” whether that means hustling at work or putting everything into our family life. But as Paul Dolan shares in this episode of our podcast, “happy lives are ones that find the right balance between pleasure and purpose”—and that balance is different for everyone. 

Listen on our website or wherever you get your podcasts 🎧

Viewpoints
🫂 The Friendship Recession

+ We’re in a “friendship recession.” In adulthood, more and more of us are struggling to create and maintain friendships. This is especially true for men: 20% of single men in America now report that they have zero close friends. 

+ Why is this happening? In large part, the friendship recession is rooted in the fact that we don’t value platonic relationships as a society. Friendship doesn’t happen organically; you have to make a point of going out and cultivating new friendships. But very few of us prioritize doing that!

+ Another major factor: many of us just don’t know how to make friends in adulthood. We don’t know what to say, we don’t know where to look, and above all, we’re scared of getting rejected.

So, what do we do about all of this

+ As a culture, we need to start acknowledging that community is vital. We put too much emphasis on romantic relationships and allow our friendships to take a back seat. That hurts all of us in the long run. 

+ This also means acknowledging that friendship isn’t spontaneous. Growing and maintaining friendships takes time and effort—and we need to start deliberately cultivating opportunities to do just that

+ Finally, we need to target systemic barriers to community-building. One such barrier is the ongoing disappearance of “third places,or places where people can gather (ideally for free) and connect with one another.

Nervous about making new friends? This episode of the podcast The Happiness Lab shares some key evidence-based tips. A few highlights: 

+ Be brave. It’s normal to feel nervous when striking up a conversation with someone. But you can’t cultivate intimacy without putting yourself out there! 

+ Assume the best. Many of us fall prey to the “liking gap,” whereby we underestimate how much people like us. Chances are people like you more than you realize!

+ Finally, a powerful secret weapon: give people compliments. We tend to underestimate the positive impact of our compliments on others.

Young Adults
Although young men are reporting unprecedented levels of loneliness, young women were most likely to report losing friendships during the pandemic. (Source: American Survey Center)
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The Similar-to-Me Effect
We tend to gravitate toward people who are like us in one way or another. That makes sense in some ways, especially as it relates to our interests: if you meet somebody who shares your deep love of Korean dramas, there’s probably a fairly good chance you’re going to get along. But this bias can also lead us to associate mostly with people who come from similar backgrounds to ourselves—which limits our ability to cultivate a rich, diverse social circle. Read more about the similar-to-me-effect on our website, and learn how you can take steps to counter it.
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