Many wellbeing trends orbit around the individual, urging us to focus narrowly on our own habits of mind and daily routine. But humans are social creatures, so if you want to make 2019 your happiest year yet, don’t go it alone. “Relationships are key for social support – they make us feel alive, buoying us up,” says clinical psychologist Dr Jessamy Hibberd. “And they help us get out of our heads and into the real world.” Here are eight simple ways to reboot your social life and reap the rewards.
1. Focus on quality, not quantity
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that you need to spend all afternoon at someone’s house to properly catch up. “New research into working and non-working mothers confirms quantity is immaterial; what matters is quality time,” says clinical psychologist Linda Blair. And how exactly do we turn time with friends and family into “quality time”? “It’s very simple,” says Blair. “Start by turning off your devices, asking them questions, and really listening.”
2. Learn something new
Unlike in the busy summer months, in winter it’s easy to allocate a night a week to a new activity, and this means you’re boosting your social circle at a time when it’s most tempting to hunker down and only see the people you share a sofa with. Whether it’s indoor rock climbing, swing dancing, dressmaking, kickboxing or language lessons, you can expect a hefty hit of dopamine from expanding your social circle and mastering something new.
3. Cancel cancelling things
Mobile phones make it all too easy to cancel plans at the last minute, but social flakiness isn’t a recipe for health and happiness – or good for our relationships. “We all do this – make a plan, then realise close to the time that we’re tired, stressed and convinced we’ll be bad company,” says Hibberd. Often, the inner debate of whether we should cancel or not becomes draining in itself. “But sometimes your mind can talk yourself out of doing the precise thing that will make you feel better,” she says, “so try doing the thing that your mind is telling you to avoid.” Also, be careful not to emotionally quarantine yourself when you feel low. “There’s a temptation to shut down our social lives to ‘just get through’ a difficult period,” says Hibberd. “But research shows that doing more of the things you enjoy will still make you feel good, even when life is difficult. This is actually when you most need to be acting to lift your mood.”
4. Nurture old friendships, but don’t forget to seek out new ones
The late Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, believed that we are the average of the five people we spend the most time with. It’s a sentiment often repeated by self-help gurus lecturing on strategies for success: only when you upgrade your inner circle can you reach the next level of both your career and life ambitions. The truth is, there’s no need to ditch your old friends in a ruthless pursuit of ambition. Instead, look to strengthen the bonds between old friends, while making an active effort to get out of your comfort zone and seek out new relationships. Donna Lancaster, relationship and life coach advises: “It’s important to ensure those that we surround ourselves with bring us nourishment and joy as well as challenge.”
5. Make social media work for you
Mindfulness expert Jody Shield, author of LifeTonic: A Modern Toolkit to Help You Heal Your Life and Soothe Your Soul, is adamant that social media can help us lead lives that are more mindful, connected and rich. “I firmly believe in editing Facebook – either by culling friends completely or creating limited-access circles – so there is a safe space for you to share with your friends,” says Shield. “It’s impossible to share or be authentic when you’re worried about what your former boss or a random you met travelling will think about your post.”
6. Get strict about screen time
While we can’t insert more hours into our day, we can claw some precious minutes back from our smartphones. “If social media is important to you personally or professionally, limit your time to 10- to 15-minute ‘windows’, perhaps in the morning, midday and evening,” suggests Shield. “Always shut your laptop at lunchtime, and ideally use this precious time as a chance to reconnect with a friend or co-worker face-to-face.”
7. Think beyond the bar
Make self-care part of your social life, not something that competes with it. The UK is starting to catch up with its Scandinavian neighbours, with saunas and new-gen spas rapidly gaining popularity as a wholesome alternative to pub dates. In London, Banya No 1 offers the traditional Russian spa experience, while the stylish Glow Bar has infrared saunas for two, and a sleek juice bar upstairs.
We should resist the notion that social time invariably involves drinking and eating too much; by bringing an element of wellbeing into social plans with friends, you’re being a much more conscientious friend.
8. Try side-by-side, not face-to-face
Sometimes, grilling a friend, a sibling or your offspring about their career or relationship over a coffee can be a little confrontational. “It’s important to remember that sometimes the people we love don’t want to answer a series of questions; this is particularly true with teenagers,” says Blair. “Instead, cook dinner together, drive them somewhere or take a walk.” Master the art of side-by-side socialising and do something together, rather than interrogating them across a table. “It doesn’t need to be a face-off.”