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No man is an island. We learn that as early as kindergarten. Why do we tend to still remember some of the first friends we ever made? Because it is a monumentally transformative experience. Up until that point, we only ever bonded deeply with our caretakers who were tasked with protecting us. Now, our brains and hearts get a new boost in development. With a fellow little human, we discover the diversity of the world around us and the meaning of fun.

Still, through play, we learn our first valuable lessons in social interaction. One sandcastle and amateur soccer game at a time, we realize that there are different kinds of bonds and connections we can form with others. Our cognitive and emotional skills improve by the day and we feel ourselves grow in many more directions than if we simply kept to ourselves. Having friends is nothing short of life-altering.

Alone, not lonely

Life is teamwork. We are primed to depend on others for a fulfilling existence. That’s not to say that intentional solitude comes without merit. Au contraireduring moments of alone time we strengthen our self-awareness and independence, we look inward without the interruption of anyone else’s perception of us. We stimulate our creativity by solving problems on our own. And if you are an introvert, you’re likely to be more productive when you work by yourself.

In solitude, we toughen up and learn how to be our own best friends, which is invaluable in the grand scheme of things. The relationship you have with yourself is the only real guarantee in life. Other people come and go but you are literally joined at the hip with your inner self. Give it some room to breathe from time to time in healthy separation from anyone else’s perspective.

Still, too much of a good thing can be deadly. Research shows that both real and perceived social isolation are linked to higher risks of premature mortality. When we choose to be alone, solitude serves us. Otherwise, it poses a threat to our well-being. For example, one review of studies linked loneliness to an increased risk of heart disease and stroke. As always, balance is key.

Running with the right crowd

They come in all shapes and sizes. Childhood friends, unlikely friends, bromances, sisterhoods, and other healthy platonic alliances are crucial for our well-being. Research shows that those who have friends and confidants tend to experience greater life satisfaction and are less prone to depression and anxiety. Even everyday casual interactions with strangers protect us from the harms of alienation. But surviving and living are two different modes of operation.

It’s the deep connections we build with true friends, those time and distance-defying relationships built to withstand storms, that help us flourish and thrive. The good souls who answer our phone calls in the middle of the night, the honest ones who, lovingly, always tell us nothing but the truth, the well-wishers who cheer us on every step of the waythey are the real deal. They construct the pillars for our happiness.

Partners in crime, thick as thieves, birds of a featherit can be quite metaphysical how we find and become kindred spirits with other people. You think your thoughts and feel your feelings within the confines of your personal reality until someone knocks on your door. All of a sudden, another human being gets you. They speak your language. They share, or at least like, all the unique quirks that make you who you are. Something clicks and snaps into place, and all is right in the world.

“What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.”

― Aristotle

True friends add more value to our lives than the biggest pots of gold. With time, they start to know you better than you know yourself. Through their eyes, you learn more about your inner and outer world, and your sense of belonging grows stronger. Is there anything more beautiful than having a support system you can rely on?

Creature of habit

They say you can’t make new old friends. Sometimes it’s a good thing―no expectations, no baggage, we can start fresh. However, it is pretty rare to find a soulmate at any stage, let alone as we get older. In adulthood, there are more obligations to fulfill and less free time than when we were kids. We are now more self-conscious and responsible by necessity.

And maybe you also burnt yourself once or twice and you are now cautious of potential flames. Perhaps you drifted apart from someone, outgrew a relationship. Or it might be that your friend passed away. Whatever the pain, that’s all the more reason to nurture and cherish the friendships that survived with us into adulthood.

So how do we keep our friends close and our best friends closer? Here are three habits to repair broken bonds and strengthen the ones already in place:

1. Create a friendship ritual

Every union needs a binding agent. Shared experience, for example, moving to another country, can easily cement your friendship with someone who also left their homeland in pursuit of a better life or adventure. But even when bonded by something grand, we still need to come together to spend quality time in each other’s presence.

The seemingly small activities make the most powerful rituals. Movie nights, board game Saturdays, a standing coffee or dinner date, or taking a class together―these are some of the ingredients of a good friendship. Anything you do with your friends that all parties enjoy is glue.

For instance, cooking and eating together work miracles. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Chinese tradition of hotpot, in which a large pan of simmering broth is placed at the center of the table, and everyone cooks their own meal ingredients in the same pot. This communal style of dining creates a wonderful sense of togetherness.

Doing things that are fun, meaningful, and exciting makes us happier. And when we share meaningful experiences with others, we build stronger connections. At Intelligent Change, we have a range of conversation card games Get Closer, based on the principles of positive psychology. As the name suggests, we believe that deep conversations bring us closer to others. Therefore, the prompts on the cards have been designed to do exactly that to inspire you to talk about everything, from fun experiences and childhood memories, to life aspirations and values.

Here are five questions from the Original Edition of Get Closer you can ask your friends:

  • What do you value most in a friendship or relationship?
  • What is one thing most people don’t know about you?
  • What is something that has made you happy lately?
  • What is your favorite memory with me?
  • What is something you will regret not doing in your life?

The key is consistency and effort. If you and your friends live in different cities or countries around the world, as very often happens nowadays, make it a ritual to meet up every Christmas when everyone travels back home to their families. True friendship knows no restrictions.

2. Go on friendship dates

Birds of a feather flock together as often as they can. Remember the pre-Internet era when we all had our usual meeting spots because text messages were expensive and video chats had yet to become a thing? These impromptu social gatherings were as natural as they were healthy. It’s ok to schedule them now. So open your planner and call your friends. Doing something shoulder-to-shoulder with someone you care about fosters a sense of unity. And that’s precisely what a friendship needs.

Another fun relic of the past having a comeback is analog photos. Invite your friends out on a date and take Polaroids to document the fun. Spending time outside of your usual settings will add some nice frivolity to your team routine and now your friends’ smiles will live forever in nice little squares on your fridge, forever reminding you of the love you share.

And remember the birthdays. Make your people feel special by remembering the day they came into this world to make your life better. Give them a heartfelt note on an odd day, too, to remind them how much they mean to you. They need and want to know that. You can never say ‘I love you’ too many times.

If your friends are outside of your vicinity, schedule regular video gatherings. Anytime you plan a holiday abroad, bring your tribe along for the ride. Actively look for ways to include your loved ones in your life as much as possible.

3. Set the friendship goal

The most important and beautiful way you can serve your friendship is by being the best friend you can possibly be to those you care about. Every relationship you have starts with you. Make sure to give your friends the attention they deserve. Send them a message from time to time, even if only to share a joke or a funny video―did you know that on Instagram, it’s called a reelationship?

A quick text might change the course of events for someone in a single moment. You never know what hardships your friends might currently be going through if you never reach out. Small, consistent efforts to keep in touch can save someone’s life, literally. In the words of author and speaker Simon Sinek, go sit in the mud with your friends when they need you. They will do the same for you because a friend in need is a friend indeed.


Whether we know our biological family or not, we are bound to them by blood. Yet, friends are the family we choose, the family we build with intention, the family that loves us unconditionally because there’s no obligation in that kind of close circle. We need our brother from another mother and our sister from another mister, and they need us because friendship is a form of self-care through the care of others.
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