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By Cara Beth Smith

New Year … New habits … New hobbies … New friends. A new year offers us so many new opportunities.

“Friendship is the hardest thing in the world to explain. It’s not something you learn in school. But if you haven’t learned the meaning of friendship, you really haven’t learned anything.”Muhammad Ali

Making friends is something we continue to do our whole lives – From our first playground friend in kindergarten, to the first friend we make at a new job. However, sometimes friendships can be difficult to maintain, especially when life gets busy. Friendships can sometimes be placed on the backburner due to jobs, kids, school, and other obligations of life.

What are some ways to meet new friends? (from mayoclinic.org)

It’s possible to develop friendships with people who are already in your social network. Think through people you’ve interacted with — even very casually — who made a positive impression.

You may make new friends and nurture existing relationships by:

• Staying in touch with people with whom you’ve worked or taken classes

• Reconnecting with old friends

• Reaching out to people you’ve enjoyed chatting with at social gatherings

• Introducing yourself to neighbors

• Making time to connect with family members

In friendships and starting friendships, it’s important to take initiative. Instead of sitting around waiting for a phone call or an invitation, reach out. The Mayo Clinic (mayoclinic.org) recommends the following practices:

Attend community events. Look for groups or clubs that gather around an interest or hobby you share. You may find these groups online, or they may be listed in the newspaper or on community bulletin boards. There are also many websites that help you connect with new friends in your neighborhood or city. Do a Google search using terms such as [your city] + social network, or [your neighborhood] + meetups.

Volunteer. Offer your time or talents at a hospital, place of worship, museum, community center, charitable group, or other organization. You can form strong connections when you work with people who have mutual interests.

Extend and accept invitations. Invite a friend to join you for coffee or lunch. When you’re invited to a social gathering, say yes. Contact someone who recently invited you to an activity and return the favor.

Take up a new interest. Take a college or community education course to meet people who have similar interests. Join a class at a local gym, senior center or community fitness facility.

Join a faith community. Take advantage of special activities and get-to-know-you events for new members.

Take a walk. Grab your kids or pet and head outside. Chat with neighbors who are also out and about or head to a popular park and strike up conversations there.

It is important that as friends, family members, co-workers, and acquaintances that we self reflect. Ask yourself: Am I a good friend? Am I pleasant to be around? Am I disrespectful or offensive? Keeping ourselves in check and holding ourselves accountable for our actions are imperative life practices. Without self-reflection, it is easy to become someone that others may not always enjoy being around, if we are being brutally honest.

8 Traits of Toxic Influences (from thevillagefamily.org)

1. Manipulative.

2. They make you feel bad about yourself.

3. Judgemental.

4. Negative.

5. Passive aggressive.

6. Self centered.

7. They have difficulty managing anger.

8. Controlling.

While having friends and making friends is a good thing, it is important to remember that it is okay to let go of bad friends and bad relationships in your life. You are not obligated to tolerate repetitive disrespect, or even keep the company of a person that you just no longer enjoy being around. We can be the best version of ourselves and the best friend that we can be by letting go of negative influences in our lives.

In this new year, let’s all work on becoming a better friend, and making good friends.

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