The headline is dramatic, but don’t we all wonder if we can do better? Is there something we can do to be a better friend? My theory is we complicate the concept of friendship as adults. In my opinion, the secret is to remember what made our childhood relationships so fun and run (or skip or hop) with that. Inner child to inner child is a terrific way to connect with other adults, but it takes a bit of childlike bravery, and most of us are out of practice. We look forward and are encouraged to grow up, then we are the grown-ups and can become lost. Respecting the experiences we gained while growing up may be the key to happiness in adulthood. Does that make sense? You already know how to be a better friend, because you were one as a child.
Head down memory lane
Nostalgia is a gift. Hear me out. To become a better friend, consider what made friendship so fantastic before growing up. Then, infuse that into your current friendships. The goal for most of us as children was fun. It was so simple back then! Simple fun. When was the last time you revisited something you loved as a kid? If you loved horseriding or ice skating during childhood, there was the last time you indulged in that activity. I bet if you explore it again as an adult, there would be no reason for you not still to love it.
First, practice this idea for your benefit but imagine the effect you could have on those around you if you encouraged them to do it. Lead by example. Honoring friendship is an expression of gratitude. The world needs more of this. Suppose we allow ourselves to recall how we expressed gratitude as a child with words, hugs, affection, and carefree crayon-drawn pictures. In that case, it’s easy to notice many of us are lacking in this department as our adult selves.
“Another study from 2018, this one from the University of Chicago, noted that people often don’t say thank you because they assume the other person already knows they appreciate it, and they feel insecure about effectively expressing their gratitude.”Read the Forbes article Pause and Say Thank You.
With your fully developed adult brain, revisiting these favorite childhood activities could bring a new sense of familiar fulfillment. Include your friends in your plan and feel the magic!
Revisit the good old days
Sadly, childhood has its (un)fair share of trauma for many of us. We can work around that. Remember your best summer memories, school trips, birthdays, etc. What is the thing that comes to mind when you remember your happiest memories? It didn’t take much to create those “best day ever” experiences. The effort and intention on your guardian’s part might be a different story but let’s focus on the pure simplicity of it all for now; the sprinkles on your scoop of ice cream, the four-leaf clover you found, the scent of the bubble gum toothpaste you begged for from the store.
(If you journal, this could be an excellent exercise.)
Be your own best friend.
You know what it took to be your best friend as a kid, and now you get to be that for yourself AND your adult friends. It would be rude not to spread the love and invite their inner child out to play. I won’t have any ideas you haven’t thought of or enjoyed, but hopefully, I can bring them to the front of your mind to implement into your routine and relationships.
Did you have a pen pal growing up? I remember counting how long it would take for my letter to be delivered to my pen pal. And I remember imagining when I could expect a letter if they wrote back immediately. The anticipation was part of the fun!
Ideas to consider
Write a letter.
It’s a simple, affordable gesture and a dying art. Write a note or card and elevate the experience by including a photograph, sticker, or another mailable surprise. Imagine how fun it will be to receive among the grown-up bills and junk mail. It can be heartfelt, funny, or informative. Thankfully, there are no rules. Then, the next time you take a trip, be prepared to send a postcard.
Create something together.
Painting, needlecraft, perler beads, card making, and coloring, there are endless possibilities when it comes to what to create together. Perhaps ask your friends what their choice of childhood craft was and decide together. This is an activity you can connect with your friends in person to do or via Zoom. Take it a step further and find a class to take together. Explore and develop interests together.
Revisit an old favorite.
Include a childhood favorite treat, recipe, movie, book, or product in your next get-together. Try it together and share your memories. Better yet, create an experience. Invite your friends to contribute a nostalgic offering and turn it into a themed Favorite Things party.
Send a gift “just because.”
See something that reminds you of your friend? Send it to them, just because. It could be anything; a small item, like nail polish in their favorite color, or a mug or glass for their favorite drink. Dive deeper and create a photo collage of your favorite times together. You get the idea; it doesn’t matter what it even is. The important thing is that you DO it.
Extend an invitation.
Sure, going alone will be quicker but will it be more fun? No, probably not. Again, such a simple gesture. Depending on where you’re at in your adulthood journey, this might be second nature to you. If so, you are amazing. And keep it up. However, for some, this could be a new concept. Remember running around the neighborhood knocking on doors, asking friends to come out to play? This is the grown-up version of that. You don’t have to be doing anything impressive – hell, we never had anything specific in mind most of the time as kids when we were doing that! But we knew together it was more fun. Embrace that idea.
It is now up to you to be a better friend. I told you already; you knew everything I was about to tell you! But now you are responsible for creating these experiences not only for yourself and your grown-up friends but for the little besties in your life. Times are different. Kids aren’t making friendship bracelets or running around like we did when we were young. It’s not unrealistic to assume the youngsters in your life haven’t received a fun letter in the mail. They might not know how to address an envelope or even have postage stamps in their house – be sure to add one to your letter. When they grow up and look back on nostalgic experiences, will mail be part of their memories? It’s too simple and joyful of a ritual not to pass on.
In conclusion, it takes a little effort to break the routines we’re in. To include new people or bond on new levels with current friends can take bravery and energy. To make it less overwhelming commit to making one new bond a month either through an affordable, intentional gesture such as mailing a letter, or sending flowers, or go a little bigger and plan a trip, party, dinner, game night, or sleepover. The important thing is to make the most of the opportunity you have to make a memory and to strengthen those friendships. Don’t underestimate small gestures.