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June: Focusing on Friends

June 7, 2016

IMG_3637I didn’t need to read the research supporting the value of “strong social bonds” and interpersonal relationships in Chapter 6 of Gretchen Rubin’s The Happiness Project to be convinced of the value of friendships. I was pleasantly surprised, though, by studies that show that strong relationships not only lengthen life but that they are more effective than quitting smoking.

I’ve long known that anything potentially unpleasant is more bearable with company, and anything that is fun to do becomes more so with friends. I can walk farther when I’m not walking alone. Music or a good audiobook piped through my earbuds can make exercise time go by faster, but I know from all those years I regularly walked and worked out with my friend Claudia how time spent with a friend manages to take my mind off my knees or feet or hips (or lungs). Oh, the stories we’ve shared and the kids we’ve raised on our old five-mile treks.

In the first part of the chapter, in order to reconnect with old friends, strengthen new relationships, and to maintain close ties, Rubin decides to remember birthdays. She tediously updates her address book and her calendar in order to send birthday emails. When a friend suggests she call instead, she takes refuge in Voltaire’s advice: “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” She knows she won’t make those phone calls but she will email.

For some people, phone calls are easier. Other people have a genuine gift for handwritten notes. Even with Facebook birthday reminders, I try to be more personal. I also suggest that if you have your account set to send automatic birthday greetings to your Facebook friends that you change that setting. Recently, I was dismayed to see numerous birthday wishes to a cousin-in-law who had died earlier this year. Honestly, I don’t care to get a birthday greeting from someone who didn’t actually send it, do you?

There are so many ways to keep up with people these days, even though most school alumnae records are private and almost no one has a landline, rendering the white pages of the phone book basically useless. I still maintain an actual address book (see picture above) and paper calendar (one in my purse and one on the laundry room wall.) Not only do they help me to keep up, but they are great artifacts when I finish up my scrapbooks of each year. Each time I feel the need for a new address book, I go through the ritual of copying the names and the current addresses, amazed at all the changes in just a few years’ time.

I’ve always been a big sender of Christmas cards, but I know some people who wait until January and send New Year’s cards. This has two benefits: They don’t get lost in the shuffle and you have recent contact information of people who sent you Christmas cards, avoiding unintentional omissions.

Whatever means you choose to keep up with friends and to strengthen bonds, follow through. After all, as any good Girl Scout knows, we should “Make new friends but keep the old; one is silver and the other, gold.”

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