Mentally scroll to the end of your life. What will be your biggest regrets? The statistics are there, thanks to researchers who have asked the question.

Top regrets tend to center on relationships and work, although people describe their regrets about relationships more strongly than their jobs and other nonsocial parts of their lives. According to Neal Roese, professor of marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, who conducted research on the subject, people most regret not having, losing or the low quality of their social connections. And while romantic relationships ranked highest, with family close behind, friendships ranked eighth in frequency of regrets. In essence, people often know how important it is to invest in love and family, but friendships are easier to let slide.

What is a friend?

According to psychologists, it's a nonrelative whose birthday you celebrate, will help you with challenges like moving and give an empathetic ear to your problems or intimate details of your life. They're also essential for your mental and physical well-being. In fact, people who have good friends are less likely to get sick and even have a lower risk of dying.

Having meaningful friendships is getting harder.

There's not enough time. Short attention spans, the fast pace of information exchange, the rate at which people engage with each other on social media--all of this has created a collective mindset which desires and rewards speed, agility, and responsiveness. Just think about how much has changed: The first-generation iPhone was released in 2007, and Facebook just a few years earlier in 2004. Work-life balance has always been challenging, but the fact that you likely have your smartphone within reach at all times means you're also available to answer emails and work texts 24/7. And connecting with friends more often means tapping and texting instead of sitting across from someone to have coffee or a beer. So, while you may have 200 "friends" on Facebook, how many of these people would drive you to the airport, help paint your living room or meet you on a moment's notice to listen to you vent about your problems?

You can get better at finding and keeping friends.

Know this: It's going to mean getting out of the house. You're not going to find a new friend sitting on your sofa. Here are a few ideas on what to do once you get out there.

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

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. Whether you're at a trade show, business lunch or bellied up to a bar somewhere, it just means being present and genuinely interested in who's sitting or standing next to you.

Set an ambitious goal. Resolve to do a triathlon, train to scuba dive in the Caribbean, or commit to jumping out of a plane. Now ask someone to train with or join you--people love a challenge.

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.

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.

Published on: Jul 28, 2017