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5 Ways to Upgrade Your Social Circle

Don't overestimate the benefits of hanging with the right crew.
5 Ways to Upgrade Your Social Circle
Jorg Badura

Other people judge you by the company you keep. And though it may sound cold and calculating, you probably should, too. Are your friends pushing you in the right ways, inviting you to try new things and meet new people? Or are they inviting you over to play Call of Duty when it’s ladies’ night at the watering hole? Whether it’s making the most out of your current friends or meeting new, interesting people, it’s time to make your social circle work for you!

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Before you start scouting for new additions to your social group, make the most of your current crew.

“Figure out what activities they like to do, and do that with them,” suggests Ellen Kanner, Ph.D., clinical psychotherapist in Huntington, NY. 

But be sure to distance yourself from their bad habits, and embrace their healthy ones.

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A study in the New England Journal of Medicine found obesity to be socially contagious. That’s because “we unconsciously get encouraged toward doing things that help—or hurt—us,” says Judy Cohen, M.C.C., a San Francisco Bay Area life coach.

Historically, much of psychological research is dedicated to pathology—diagnosing mental illnesses and searching for treatments. Now, an emerging area of study called “positive psychology” focuses instead on cataloging the habits and mindsets of well-adjusted, productive people to find new strategies to teach people how to be happier.

“Start with people who are where you want to be,” says Cohen. In other words, get together with someone who’s got it together.

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Alcoholics Anonymous defines “insanity” as repeating the same mistake over and over and expecting different results.

The remedy: pattern interruption. Anthony Tranguch, M.D., Ph.D., of Columbia University, recalls a patient who was suffering from social anxiety. One day she joined a sewing group on a whim—and it changed her life. Everyone chatted, but was too busy for eye contact; in time, she’d established a new network of friends.

“Obviously, most guys aren’t that into sewing,” Tranguch says. “It could be anything that pulls us out of our routine and opens us up to new experiences.”

Leaving your comfort zone is tough at first, but it doesn’t have to be a root canal. Find something you’d like to try, and give it a shot.

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Charity work isn’t the most glamorous way to spend your time. But ask anyone who does it and they’ll tell you that you’ll get more out of it than you put into it.

For one, you’ll meet people who are kind, selfless, and positive. “And you’ll meet older people,” says Kanner. “That’s good for young people. In what other situations do 25-year-olds hang out with 75-year-olds?”

John Stark, articles editor at Next Avenue, a PBS Web service aimed at the 50-plus set, compares older friends with thick novels, as opposed to younger pals, whom he likens to short stories or rough drafts.

“Each of my older friends has suffered the tragedies and losses that come with longevity,” says Stark. “Still, they haven’t become bitter old cranks or recluses. They’ve managed to combine a childlike joy of living with mature judgment and wisdom.

“Now that’s a formula I’d like to bottle.”

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Women are joiners,” posits Kanner. But men, not so much.

“Most men are not going to go to Weight Watchers. They’ll go to the gym, maybe, but they’re not gonna go to a class.”

Joining a local co-ed soccer league or a nearby running or open-water swim club is a great way to be active in a social setting without feeling like you’re in a Zumba class.

Or whatever, join a Zumba class if you’re into it.

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