According to a long-term study by experts at Harvard University, fame and fortune aren’t what keeps us happy. Indeed, tens of thousands of pages of information generated by the study suggest that good relationships are crucial, not just for happiness but for our health too.
The study also shows how damaging loneliness can be to your overall wellbeing. Those taking part in the study who were more isolated than they wanted to be were less happy, and their health declined earlier in midlife than those who had good social connections. Isolated people, the study suggests, also live shorter lives than those who aren’t lonely.
This isn’t the 1st piece of research to confirm a link between social support and health. Some studies claim having good relationships could make you up to 50% more likely to live a long and healthy life, compared with someone who is isolated.
Loneliness has been felt amongst many during the Covid-19 outbreak. But it usually becomes more common as you get older, says AgeUK, which claims up to a million older people in the UK can go for a month without speaking to anyone (pre-Covid-19). The charity also reckons an estimated 5 million older people consider their TV to be their main form of companionship.
Of course, loneliness isn’t just something that affects older people, especially recently when restrictions have meant people cannot socialise like they used to. But many people find it more difficult to make and maintain new relationships in later life than when they were young. So here are some tips on how to meet new people and make friends in your 50s, 60s, 70s and beyond. Remember, you don't have to meet someone face-to-face to reap the benefits, good relationships can built on the phone or online too.
Don’t be embarrassed
There’s no shame in being lonely, and you’re certainly won’t be the only person who feels isolated. So don’t let embarrassment stop you from doing something about it. You may feel uncomfortable about meeting new people at first. If you’re not used to doing much socialising, reaching out to people you don’t know may feel like a risk. But take the plunge and it’s very likely that you’ll discover others feel exactly the same as you do.
Meet your neighbours
Years ago most people lived in communities where everyone would be on 1st name terms with everyone living around them. These days, you’re lucky if you know who your next-door neighbour is. But being part of a local community is a good way to meet people in your area and may help you feel less isolated.
If you don’t know who lives next door, say ‘good day’ to your neighbour next time you see them. Give them a smile whenever you see them, you’ll soon find an opportunity to start chatting and can turn it into something you do on a regular basis.
If you already know your next-door neighbours, try to get acquainted with others further down the street to widen your local social circle, and look out for local community groups you could join, such as residents’ associations.
Share your interests
There are also lots of other groups you could join that may allow you to pursue your hobbies and passions and connect with others at the same time. If you like reading, why not join a near-by book club or reading group? Or if you’re fond of the great outdoors, look for a Ramblers walking group in your local area (visit ramblers.org.uk).
Another website that could help you find a group that shares your interests is meetup.com – just type in your location and choose the subject you’re interested in to find the nearest groups in your area. Meetup groups cater for all tastes and ages, so depending on where you live you’re almost certain to find one you could try.
Many groups have moved their meet ups online so you can stay in touch even if you're isolating.
Walk a dog
Anyone who has ever walked a dog regularly knows how easy it is to strike up conversations and acquaintances with other dog owners. There’s something about the shared interest of having a pet that makes it easy to talk to a complete stranger who you normally wouldn’t dream of approaching.
If you don’t have a dog, you might want to think about offering to walk one for a friend or neighbour. Alternatively, you could consider volunteering as a dog walker at your local animal shelter.
Do good deeds
When restrictions lift, if you have some spare time on your hands, you may want to think about doing some voluntary work. There are always lots of different organisations that need people to help out, such as local hospitals, schools, churches and a host of different charities. And not only will volunteering get you out and about and meeting people, but it will also help to boost your self-esteem too.
Ask for details of groups that need volunteers at your local library, or visit do-it.org to find volunteering opportunities in your area.
Connect with old friends
If you’ve lost touch with friends from the past, you may be amazed at how easy it can be to discover them on social media websites such as Facebook. People of all ages use Facebook to keep in touch with what friends and family members are up to, and according to AgeUK, social networking is increasingly used by the older generations. So think about giving it a try if you haven’t already done so.
Pick up the phone
If the idea of signing up to a social media network doesn’t appeal to you, there’s always the telephone. It’s a great tool for getting in touch with people you haven’t spoken to in a while. And who knows, you may make someone’s day by giving them a call.
Meanwhile, if you live in the UK, you’re aged 60 or older and feeling lonely or isolated, try our telephone friendship service, which is run in partnership with AgeUK.