When asked what factors in life bring happiness or contentment, people across all demographics put good friends in the top five, yet you'd be hard-pressed to prove it by examining the behavior of most of us.
In the last 20 years we have reduced the amount of time we spend with friends. We've increased time spent at work, time on screens, and time worrying, but decreased time with friends by 23%.
The obstacle for most is finding time. Eking out moments when schedules allow becomes the measuring stick by which getting together is governed. Over the course of a year it is estimated most people spend less than four minutes per day hosting or attending social events. We are carving out less and less time to get together—and it is to our peril.
The Mayo Clinic says friendships impact our health and well-being. Adults with good friends have a reduced risk of many significant health problems including depression, high blood pressure and an unhealthy body mass index. Studies have even found that older adults with a rich social life are likely to live longer than their peers with fewer connections. Yet we are increasingly making less time for one another. If your experience doesn't follow these patterns, consider how fortunate you are, and keep maintaining those important friendships. If, on the other hand, you can relate to the decrease of time devoted to friends, you can do something about it.
The Mayo Clinic goes on to provide a list of suggestions. Attend community and church events, volunteer, take a walk and visit with people in your neighborhood, or find out where groups are getting together to pursue hobbies you have interest in. All these make good sense, but really, do we need to be told such things? I guess we do. But it was one more on the list that caused me to take a second look: extend and accept invitations. Again, do we really need to be told to do this? Apparently so.
Last winter I spent a month in the country of Romania, living and working amongst strangers. In the stretch of only 21 days I was invited into homes and gatherings for meals with seven different groups and families. I admit honestly, and with chagrin, that I haven't invited seven new people into my home in the entire year.
A few weeks ago I made contact with a friend I hadn't seen in years. I was going to be in her area briefly and we made plans to get together. That feeling of picking up right where we left off was so evident and it left us questioning, as always, why haven't we made more of an effort to get together. Admittedly, it's not always easy, but, oh so very important.
It made me think of others I haven't seen in a while, or those whose friendship I say I cherish but I keep letting other things get in the way of us spending time together. The chance to interact face to face and heart to heart is something we can't continue to let slip down the list. It's a pretty simple prescription: extend and accept invitations.
I can look back at time with friends over the last couple of months as nostalgic moments of summer to hold on to, but so much better if I decide to do it again and again. That's my outlook.