In spite of how "connected" people appear to be on social media or via the smartphones they have in hand every waking moment,  loneliness is a rising epidemic in the developed world. This is a terrible reality considering researchers have shown that loneliness can significantly increase a person's chance of premature death. Apparently, loneliness triggers cellular responses that increase inflammation and decrease the body's ability to fight off sickness.

If this is you, and having a new pal would make life better, know this: It's not going to happen on its own. You need to be  intentional about connecting with people around you, especially if you're not the most outgoing person around. Here's what you can do.

1. Get out of the house.

Skanky swiping apps aside, you're not going to find a new friend sitting on your sofa.

2. Take a night class.

Whether you love to read, enjoy history or find cellular metabolism the most fascinating thing on the planet, there's a college course waiting for you--as are all the classmates you'll meet after enrolling.

3. Strike up a conversation.

This is remarkably easy when you consider how much people like to talk about themselves. Get good at asking questions of the people with whom you come in contact. The other day at a trade show I learned the life stories of at least three people just by being genuinely interested and present in the moment.

4. Set an ambitious goal.

For me, it's completing a half-marathon this summer. I want someone to train with and thought about the acquaintances I know who run. Can my former neighbor, current neighbor, husband's friend's wife, or friend from high school be my new running companion? I won't know until I ask, which I plan to do once the snow melts and I'm lacing up for the season. Other ideas: Resolve to do a triathlon, train to scuba dive in the Caribbean, or commit to jumping out of a plane. Now ask someone to join you--people love a challenge.

5. Volunteer.

It looks good on your resume and your conscience. Not only will you meet people who share your ideals and feel more socially connected, research has shown that those who donate their time to others may reap better physical health, including lower blood pressure and a longer life.

6. Join a health club.

Even if you hate exercise, find a class that's not miserable (yoga?) and commit to going a few times a week. Soon, you'll have a group of people who know you and look forward to seeing your face. As a bonus, over time you'll probably look and feel better, which will only make it easier for you to befriend others.