Saturday, March 22, 2014

Loneliness Epidemic or Epic Connection? You Make the Call

Loneliness has recently been described as a silent epidemic. Surveys report that people now have fewer close friends then ever before. Experts assert that Facebook friends aren’t real friends and that the brave new world of social networking is making people more isolated and alienated than ever. A recent cover story in Oprah Magazine laments the demise of the simple phone call and warns that texting is an inadequate and potentially seditious substitute. Are people hiding from intimacy behind smart phones, social media, gaming and electronics? Or could our ability to interact via our devices in point of fact be an asset that is bringing us ever closer and creating genuine opportunities for socializing, emotional support and conversation? I find it interesting that many of these surveys, articles, and experts rarely provide a clear definition of the terms they study. What if we aren’t actually lonelier than before? What if what’s really called for is reconsideration of an outmoded conceptualization of friendship and loneliness?

Never before have we been so connected with such a diversity of choices and options for social interaction immediately at our fingertips. Does the data really justify experts’ warnings that these new alternatives are inferior to older established types of social interaction? Wasn’t the highly respectable telephone call once considered a new-fangled assault on conventional society? Don’t members of the old guard frequently voice dire predictions that fresh innovations are deficient and hazardous compared to their traditional time-honored counterparts? When you consider the rapid rate of change in our contemporary society, it’s reasonable to assume that how we look at friendship and loneliness needs to evolve at a comparable pace.  What we expect from marriage has undergone a radical transformation in the past 50 years.  Therefore, it seems plausible to presume that our conceptualization of friendship should be following a similar trajectory.

On a slightly different note, could it be possible that we might now have fewer closer friends because we are actually better off with fewer close friends? We are busier than ever before which means most of us have less time and energy to invest in our friendships than we did in the past. Many people in committed relationships consider their spouse or partner to be their best friend. Along with this partner, more friends at lower intensity may be the most parsimonious solution. In my opinion, an evolving mosaic of diverse friends accessible by telephone, online, and in-person seems the most elegant and practical antidote to “the loneliness epidemic”.

What about when a close friendship goes sour?  A chum who initially appears to be the answer to all your prayers can degenerate into a frenemy. Toxic and exploitative friendships are a dirty little secret no one usually admits to in polite company. Many people unquestioningly tolerate appallingly manipulative behavior in the name of close friendship. After all, who doesn’t aspire to having a BFF? But, what if you find your bestie requires too much time, effort, accommodation, frustration and discontent on your part with precious little in return? Should this one-sided level of compromise be required to keep a close friendship intact? Might it not be better to have several satisfying friendships of moderate emotional intensity with a lower overall risk of toxicity from any one person? Of course, all successful relationships will require some degree of work and negotiation but no friendship should be consistently inequitable, controlling or draining.  Your pals should lift you up, energize you and make you happy. You shouldn’t feel a sense of dread when the caller ID lights up with the phone number of someone who you call your best friend.

Or are we lonely because we give up too soon or we don’t value relationships as we should? Maybe we have all grown so selfish and self-absorbed that we can’t appreciate a good relationship when we have one staring us right in the face. What if our expectations have become excessively narcissistic, misguided and unrealistic? Perhaps the idealized images projected by TV, books and movies, seasoned with a sizeable dose of nostalgia, in combination with our fast paced, immediate-gratification culture have come together in a way that makes emotionally intimate friendship impossible or unsustainable. Maybe superficiality is the best anyone can really do and we should simply embrace it and be content with our lot.

Besides, how do you really know if someone is your friend anyway? Conversely, how do you know when someone who you think is your friend really isn’t? Frankly, how do you determine who is an asset in your relationship life and who is actually a liability? Who do you consider to be your friend? Is your next-door neighbor your friend or merely an acquaintance? What about your spouse, sibling or child? Is the barista you chat with every day when you pick up your morning coffee your friend? What about your coworkers or the other riders in your carpool or the person who works out next to you at the gym 3 times a week? Is the childhood buddy you talk to once every ten years at your high school reunion your friend? Can someone you’ve never met face to face really be your friend? Are all of your Facebook friends real friends? What about the people you play online games with every day? If virtual friends are real friends what does it mean when they can’t give you a hug, bring you soup when you’re sick or help you move that new couch into your apartment? We call dogs, “mans best friend.” Can a dog really be your best friend? The answers are not always easy or straightforward.

While we are on the subject, what exactly is a best friend, anyway? How do you decide when an acquaintance has become a friend? When is someone who was once your friend officially a friend no longer? All of these questions can get your head spinning and make you want to hide under the covers in sheer frustration.  To find the answers, it’s important to take some time to seriously consider your personal understanding of what friendship and loneliness mean in your own life. Your definition of friendship will be as unique as your fingerprint. It will help you determine who really is a friend to you and what significance this has for your sense of social support, interconnection and loneliness.

I am currently exploring the answers to these questions using a survey I’ve developed. In December, I will giving a TED talk on the topic of friendship. I would appreciate your input on my talk by clicking on the link below and completing my survey. 

Check back for future blogs where I will be exploring the topic of friendship further and sharing the results of my survey.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

The Changing Face of Friendship: A Brief Survey

I’m pleased and honored to be giving a TED talk at TEDxVailWomen in December. Giving a TED talk has been a bucket list item of mine for years.

TED is all about sharing ideas worth spreading. In the 9 minutes allocated for my talk I will be discussing the changing face of friendship. Loneliness appears to be a silent epidemic in modern society. Research finds that more people report feeling lonely than at any previous time in history. In my psychotherapy practice, clients frequently admit to intense feelings of loneliness and difficulty finding and maintaining friendships. One might think these feelings are specifically related to the reason, such as depression, anxiety, stress or family problems that is bringing the client to therapy in the first place. However, I hear this lament from many different types of clients, regardless of their reason for seeking therapy. Many of these clients are charming, interesting, successful people who report no significant problems with friendships in the past.

Because of my general interest in the topic, I frequently ask people about their friendships. I hear the same poignant messages over and over such as, “I used to have a lot of close friends but now I don’t.” or “I hardly ever see my friends anymore.” or "I have a lot of people I enjoy staying in touch with but I don't have anyone to help me if I'm sick or I need to move a piece of furniture." or "Once my best friend got married, our relationship was never the same again." or "I'm on Facebook all the time but it only makes me feel worse." or "Nobody takes the time to really talk with each other anymore and I miss it."

 All of this seems paradoxical in light of our constant connectedness through social networking and electronic devices. I hope that by understanding the changes in our lifestyles, expectations, attitudes and resources over the past few decades, we can find ways to achieve greater feelings of closeness, connection and intimacy and enjoy the many benefits of better social support.

I’ve created a short questionnaire to survey opinions, issues, trends and attitudes about contemporary friendships. I want to understand how people define the difference between a friend, a best friend and an acquaintance. I am curious how access to social media, technology and smart phones influences feelings of loneliness and connection. How much time do we actually spend in face-to-face vs virtual encounters with friends? Who is considered a friend? How is friendship defined for most people? Exploring what different demographic groups have to say about loneliness and friendship will also be very interesting.

Many people have asked how they might be able to help me with my talk and my friendship project.

If you would like to help, I have two requests. The first is that you complete the brief friendship survey I’ve created by clicking on the link below and that you share this link (or just this whole blog) with as many people as you can. This will give me lots of data to work with. 

My second request is that you share your own ideas about friendship with me, either through comments on this blog or by back-channeling me via email. If you would like to email me, please click the link below for the email address listed on my website. You can also message me through my professional Facebook page (link below). Sadly, whenever I directly post my email address on my blog I get bombarded by spam.

Here's some of what I would like to hear:

What are some of your own favorite friendship stories?
What is your opinion about why friendships have changed so much?
What you think makes someone a best friend?
How does an acquaintance become a friend?
How have you dealt with a toxic friendship?
How you define the word friend?
How have friendships in your work place changed over time?
Do you believe loneliness is a silent epidemic?
What factors do you think are contributing to people’s feelings of loneliness?
And anything else you might like to share about the topic of friendship.

Thanks so much for your help. I look forward to your answers!

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Social Media, Cyberbullying and Teens

This afternoon, I had the privilege of giving a presentation on social media, cyberbullying and teens at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy in Minturn, Colorado. The school, near Vail Ski Resort, has about 175 students in 5th-12th grades. The students are elite athletes training for professional competition and careers in skiing and snowboarding.  Before meeting the students, we were given a guided tour of the school. What a wonderful facility! And, I must say the view from every window was breath-taking.

Today's presentation was organized by the school's counseling office at the request of some of the middle school students who wanted more in-depth discussions about social media. There were three parts. Part I, presented by a local company called Mobloggy, discussed "branding" issues and how to create a social media presence that will create a positive brand for each athlete; a brand that sponsors will find desirable and appealing and enhances the athlete's overall possibility for a successful future in their chosen sport. Part II was my presentation, discussing positive responsible use of social media and how to handle cyberbullying. Part III was given by the Eagle County Sheriff's office and offered lots of information about the legal implications of irresponsible social media use and inappropriate photo sharing, with special emphasis on "sexting" and it's legal ramifications with regards to child pornography. It was very sobering and I hope it will help the kids think twice before sharing anything inappropriate online.

We did a separate presentation for the 7-12 graders and the 5th and 6th graders.  The 7th-12th grade group was the larger of the two. The kids really seemed interested and engaged. The second, for the 5th and 6th graders, was a relatively lighter version of the first. The information about sexting was omitted because it was deemed too graphic for kids this young. The younger kids really seemed to enjoy my part of the talk. They made lots of great comments and asked lots of good questions. Their openness and enthusiasm was really refreshing and made interacting with these students a lot of fun!

I hope the students and staff at the Vail Ski and Snowboard Academy found all of today's presentations educational and thought provoking. I can say it was certainly worth taking the afternoon off and driving out to Minturn for!

Here are copies of the powerpoint slides I created for my presentation today:

Copyright Jill Squyres PhD. 
Not to be used or copied without permission from the author

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Rest in Peace Pete Seeger

The world lost another icon today. Folk singer and activist Pete Seeger died quietly in his sleep at the age of 94. I suppose it’s inevitable that it is the season for some of the earliest baby boomer icons to be saying their final good-byes but that doesn’t make it any less sad.

I’m not sure if most millennials even know who Pete Seeger was. But, I am sure that anyone of any age who went to camp remembers the words to “If I Had A Hammer” or “Where Have All the Flowers Gone.” The lyrics to his song “Little Boxes on a Hillside” were printed in the back of my 8th grade social studies book. The song touched me deeply. I decided I would never be “made of ticky-tacky or put in a little box” to come out the same as everybody else. In other words, his songs inspired me to think for myself and embrace my individuality; and to value skepticism, social justice and creativity. To this day, I remember happily singing “Little Boxes” while rowing an aluminum boat on Surprise Lake with my camp counselor picking out the guitar chords on the hot bench beside me.

Here is a link to the youtube video of "Little Boxes on a Hillside."

I went to Surprise Lake Camp (SLC), a sleep away camp in Putnam County New York. Some of my happiest childhood moments were spent there. It turns out that Pete Seeger’s home was near our camp. Because of this proximity, I developed a strong emotional attachment to Pete Seeger and his music. He felt like my own personal folk star. Whenever we sang one of his songs around a campfire or on a hike, there was something magical about the fact that his home was only a few miles away. It felt like I was in the company of greatness.

The presence of the nearby Seeger home was always discussed with a kind of reverence. Metaphorically, it was considered a beacon of light in the distance. Our neighbor on the opposite side of the campground was called “Cornish.” “Cornish” was always spoken of in those hushed tones of delighted horror unique to adolescents. The mythology was that Cornish had been the home of the founder of Pittsburgh Paints. A terrible tragedy was supposed to have happened there. It was presumed to be haunted. Campers and counselors alike would swear they had seen ghosts wandering among the ruins there. One of the ways to prove you were an absolute bad-ass SLC-style was to hike to Cornish and say you weren’t afraid.
During the summer I was 14, the head counselor on teen side, Larry, decided to arrange a scavenger hunt.  A few days ahead, the counselors hiked the local trails, distributing colored rocks as they walked. Each team would be assigned a color to scavenge for. Whichever team found the most painted rocks would win a watermelon. My team was assigned the gold rocks. We were also assigned the “Breakneck Ridge” hike because Larry decided we needed to toughen up a bit. Breakneck Ridge was a difficult hike and Larry knew I didn’t like it. Perhaps he thought the promise of a watermelon would institute an attitude adjustment on my part. It didn’t.

It was a blistering hot day and I was miserable. As the heavy rocks accumulated in my backpack, I grew more and more resentful.  Sweating and exhausted, I finally reached the top of breakneck ridge. Looking out over the Hudson River and Route 9W, I had a moment of adolescent rebellion. No watermelon was worth this amount of effort and misery. My friends and I stopped and sipped water. We removed the rocks from our packs and piled them in a pyramid. And then we moved on.

By this time, we were lagging way behind the rest of our group. We decided to take our sweet time and enjoy the rest of the hike, which was mostly downhill back to our camp. Unfortunately, we seriously misjudged the time this would take. Dusk was settling and we started to get nervous because we couldn’t see the trail markers anymore. A disagreement ensued as to whether we should continue on what looked to be the trail or “bush-whack” through the brush in the direction where I was sure our camp was waiting.  2 friends and I headed into the brush while the rest of the group continued on the trail. After a while, my little trio was happy to recognize a baseball field and the camp road. We arrived at the dining hall in the dark and were rewarded with a watermelon for our efforts.

This is where Pete Seeger comes in. The group that had continued on the trail ended up at Pete Seeger’s house.  While he was not at home, the campers were welcomed by his wife who offered them drinks and snacks while she listened to their tales of the day’s adventures. Then she called the camp, which sent a bus to pick the wayward kids up and drive them back to camp. It turns out they got watermelon too. In fact, it was always the intention that we would all get watermelon.

I’ve always regretted my decision to “bush-whack” that day. Had I stayed on the trail, I would have met Pete Seeger’s wife. I would have had my first real brush with greatness. I would have had the chance to sit at his kitchen table, chat with his wife and see his house. On the other hand, I made it back to camp by blazing my own trail. Ultimately, trusting my own instincts got me and my friends home. I’m sure Pete Seeger would have approved.

RIP Pete Seeger. You will be missed but I hope your music and the values you lived by live on.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fixing What's Broken: What to do About Mental Health Care in America

Tonight’s episode of CBS “60 Minutes” really touched a nerve for me. It discussed how broken our mental health system is through the lens of one family’s tragedy. Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds told CBS’ “60 Minutes” news program about the loss of his son Gus, who had been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder.  Last November, the Deeds family had tried to find inpatient mental health care for their son Gus, but no beds were available. Gus went home with his family. He subsequently attacked his father, inflicting multiple stab wounds, before shooting and killing himself.
Senator Deeds spoke with “60 Minutes” since it was “the biggest megaphone I could think of to talk about the system’s failings.” He has declared it is his mission to protect other families from the horrible misfortune he has experienced. As a state senator he is committed to changing Virginia’s mental health laws to keep anything like this from happening again.
I wish it didn’t take a personal catastrophe of this magnitude to enlighten government officials about the need for change. I wish it didn’t take Mr. Deed’s attack and disfigurement and the suicide of his son to raise awareness. The fact that it usually takes something this extreme to bring the need for change to the forefront is just more compelling evidence as to how broken the system really is.
I started graduate school in 1981 as a National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) fellow. The NIMH fellowship program was set up as part of Lyndon Johnson’s great society, which recognized that good mental health care was an integral part of a successful, productive, enlightened country. After Reagan took the presidency, he redlined the NIMH fellowship program out of the federal budget. The loss of my fellowship created a challenge for me as to how I was going to pay for my graduate education. Instead, I worked as a research assistant on a federally funded grant that paid my tuition and provided a stipend. I was fortunate. Many others weren’t able to find an alternative and had to give up their dreams of helping others as mental health professionals.
Throughout my early career, I watched as the residential treatment system was dismantled. I don’t remember many homeless people as a child but the homeless have been a fixture in my adult life, mostly because there were no longer residential treatment programs or institutions to house and care for them. I’m not implying the old institutional system was perfect. But needy, fragile, patients were turned out into the streets, with nothing in place to fill the resource gap.
During my years as a clinical psychologist, I’ve been frustrated by the increasing fragmentation of care and the lack of emergency and support services. I’ve watched care plans dictated by limitations imposed by insurance coverage rather than patient’s treatment needs. I’ve seen the number of psychiatrists dwindle. Most psychiatric medications are now handled by internists, family practitioners and pediatricians, who are already overburdened and freely profess to a lack of confident expertise in managing psychiatric medications.
The multiple failures of our current  mental health care system isn’t news to me or anyone else interacting with the system as a health care professional, patient or family member. A crisis of this severity, breadth and magnitude can only be solved by government mandates and intervention. Insurance companies won't freely provide the coverage needed for adequate services and hardly any one can afford the level of care needed for serious mental illness without being incredibly wealthy. This moment has been inevitable ever since Ronald Reagan started dismantling the system during my first year in graduate school. Nothing has ever trickled down to restore it. It is so heartbreaking to bear witness at the front lines.

Instead of shaking our heads in helpless frustration we need to ask, “What can be done?” We can legislate the availability of more affordable long-term residential treatment resources funded by insurance, government programs or grants. Lawmakers need to step up and push for programs that will once again fund training for psychiatrists and other mental health professionals, particularly those who can provide services in rural, impoverished or blighted areas, We must have enforceable mandates for true parity of insurance coverage for mental health. Emotional and physical health are so intertwined, there should be no question that the standards of coverage should be the same. We used to have government programs to fund residential and outpatient treatment and scholarships and grants to fund education and training for mental health professionals. It wasn't a perfect system but it was vastly better than what we have now. So far, no for-profit model has worked effectively for mental health services except for those who cater to patients with sufficient wealth to pay for care or who have exceptionally good health insurance that has far-better-than-average mental health coverage. 

Let’s fix what’s broken before more high profile tragedies occur. The consciousness raised by the horrors we’ve already witnessed, as well as what we’ve learned about the day-to-day heartbreak of families and patients currently struggling with mental illness, should be sufficiently motivating for us all.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Only Connect: A Retrospective on the Changing Face of Friendship

It’s the rare individual that doesn’t fondly remember the close friends of childhood. Through the gauzy haze of nostalgia, we idly reminisce about youthful games of tag, lazy summer days, sleepovers, intense angst-ridden phone calls, and languid hours spent hanging out doing nothing in particular and having a great time doing it. As humans, we are social beings. We have a biological hunger for social connection. This hunger is expressed in many ways, including our penchant for watching movies and TV shows featuring BFFs, such as Thelma and Louise, Mary and Rhoda, Lucy and Ethel or the glittering gals from Sex and the City. Some of our favorite books, like the Harry Potter Series, or the Betsy/Tacy stories, are about close friends who share interests, support one another, spend lots of time together and know each other's dreams, secrets and vulnerabilities. 

I had my first best friend when I was 3 years old. She was also named Jill. Because we were both Jills our middle names were added to our firsts so she was Jill Robin and I was Jill Shari. Jill Robin's mother, Carol was my mom's best friend. We all lived in the same apartment building so our mothers were constantly back and forth, drinking coffee and chatting while we played. Then my family moved to the city. Susie was my new next-door-neighbor. Suddenly, at 4, I had a new best friend and it was Susie!  Once Susie and I started school, we were in different classes and we drifted apart. In elementary school, I was part of a little posse of girls including Andrea, Doreen, Bruni and Joanne. In middle school, high school and beyond, the cast of characters underwent numerous revisions, but the special feelings of closeness, connectedness and trust that characterized these relationships will always hold a cherished place in my heart.

For most of us, as we move into elementary school, we grow increasingly selective and we begin to choose our friends based on common interests rather than proximity or our parent's choices for us. We also become more sensitive to social status and being picked on. We want friends who are "like us." This pattern continues into high school, although most of us experiment with different types of friends as we explore and develop our own self-image. Most high-schoolers fervently pledge eternal fellowship, though in practice, this is rarely realized. In college, friendships tend to grow more complex. Since many college students are starting the friend game over from scratch, they willingly push outside their comfort zone as they explore new types of relationships with a greater diversity of people. Social hierarchies are still prominent concerns and can cause a lot of anxiety for college students. College friendships can be emotionally intense and incredibly close. The devotion and loyalty characteristic of these relationships appears to be the gold standard by which later adult friendships are unofficially measured. Statistically, these alliances have a greater chance of lasting than high school friendships traditionally do. This is partly because personality is better formed and many career and lifestyle goals that might otherwise interfere with the stability of the relationship are more defined by this stage in life.

Friendships among young singles are often dominated by fun and partying. Young adults who are not into drinking, parties and bars may experience significant loneliness at this time in their lives. Once married or in long term committed relationships, young couples without an established social circle often have trouble making new friends, particularly when it's important for all 4 people involved to like each other enough to spend considerable time together.

Many of us have pleasant fantasies about close friends who have children of similar ages who can all grow up together, like cousins or even siblings. The kids will play and be BFFs too. Everyone will help each other through life’s rough spots while celebrating all of life’s joys in happy harmony. Unfortunately, it frequently turns out that the kids actually don't get along, schedules don't jibe, and other priorities interfere. Work, household responsibilities, extended family obligations, school activities, lessons and team sports trump the needs of the relationship.

When we think idyllically about friendship, we imagine childhood pals who never move away and BFFs with similar disposable incomes, interests and schedules. These friends will have spouses and children we adore who will be lifelong buddies with our own spouses and children. Everyone involved will enjoy one another’s company. There won’t be too much stress and there will be lots of fun. Nobody will be too busy, cranky or unreasonable. Dining, troubles talk, encouragement, shopping, vacations, parties, adventures, games, and celebrations will be enthusiastically shared. What could be better? Except things usually turn out to be a lot more complicated than this fantasy predicts.

As it often turns out, many of us disperse around the country, moving far away from our childhood homes and leaving our old buddies behind. Building our careers takes precedence over building our friendships. Roommates don't necessarily progress into BFFs. The reality is that people can be competitive and judgmental rather than supportive and encouraging. When you move to that new neighborhood, the local ladies may not show up with casseroles or welcome you with open arms and party invitations. In the workplace, we are frequently discouraged from forming friendships. It is often against company policy to be friends with people you supervise. The higher up the ladder you go, the lonelier it can get. Old friends may be envious of your success or find they can’t relate to you anymore. Or, it may be that you simply have so little time. If you are a married woman, your husband often considers you to be his best friend. You may not be sure that he is yours but you know any available emotional energy needs to go to him and your kids, not your friends, who may be too busy, competitive or exhausted to care anyway.

Our society seems to place very limited practical value on real connectedness. Even if we personally value our friendships, our actions don’t always approximate our desires and intentions. We may sit in our lovely houses with designer kitchens and large gracious dining rooms fruitlessly awaiting those magazine or movie-style moments when close friends come over, hang out and have a wonderful picture-perfect time. As we move around the country and go through life's various stages, it can get harder and harder to make new friends. In order to be worth our limited time and other resources, it starts to feel like prospective “candidates” have to be as similar to us as possible including the right age, political party, level of education, social class, marital status, and career path. Kids need to be of similar ages. Literary, movie, music, TV, cultural and culinary preferences should dovetail seamlessly. Not only must potential friends have common interests, their pursuit of these interests should be at the same level of expertise and intensity as ours. She should be the right religion (or lack there of) and engage in compatible spiritual practices. If you recycle, so must she. If you don't eat meat, she'd better be a vegetarian too.

Of course computers, smart phones, social media, video games and the internet can either enhance or hinder our ability to make and maintain friendships. This, however, is a topic worthy of its own post, so I’ll be writing that one soon. Be sure to check back so you don’t miss it.

Awareness is the first step towards change. As Ghandi said, "You must be the change you want to see in the world." If you want friends you must be a friend. Decide to make a personal commitment to reaching out and finding meaningful ways to connect with others. Put down your electronic devices and pay full attention to the people around you. Build your listening and conversation skills. Find time in your schedule to develop and maintain friendships. Be patient with the process. It takes time and effort to get to know someone. Make the choice to be sociable an active choice. Go out of your way to get to know your neighbors. Take time to chat. Be more open. Include others in activities you might otherwise do on your own. Invite people over. Make a conscious effort to think beyond your immediate family. Get involved in organizations that will allow people to get to know you and you to know them. Learn to approach people and cultivate your own approachability. Strive to be pleasant and agreeable. Smile, catch someone's eye and strike up a conversation. Dust off your social skills. Learn a few jokes. Take some risks. Allow a little vulnerability. Dwell in possibility and rethink your preconceived ideas about friendship.

I’m sure you know how to do a lot of this already. You probably did it without much thought or special effort when you were younger. What happened to the friendly child you used to be? Reconnect with your quiescent sense of wonder, curiosity and possibility.  Let that fuel the motivation to reach out and make some new connections. Your life will be so much richer for it.