On weekdays, before he turns his attention to work and chores and the other demands of adult life, Daniel Cox walks his kids to school. It gives him a chance to stretch his legs and, more importantly, to say hi to some of his parent friends.

“It’s not a ton of time to spend with other parents, but we can have short conversations. It’s enough time to check in and maybe schedule a play date,” he said.

Cox mentioned those walks and chats as he described the small ways he tries to fit friendship maintenance into his weekly routine. Unless you prioritize getting out of the house (or car) and seeing your friends, it’s easy to let weeks or even months pass as you keep postponing plans.

“Given how frantic we all are and how demanding our schedules often are, it can be really challenging to find that time,” he said.

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Surveys show that Americans today spend more time at work and with their kids than they did in the past. While those professional and personal activities can be rewarding, the scheduling shift is leaving people with less time for friends and smaller social networks overall.

“Americans report having fewer close friendships than they once did, talking to their friends less often, and relying less on their friends for personal support,” explained the May 2021 American Perspectives Survey from the Survey Center on American Life.

To Cox, the director of the Survey Center, that’s something of a tragedy. People may not always realize it, but strong friendships are a building block of a good life.

“Research shows that, despite this idea that you only need one good friend, we all really need many friends. The more friends we have, the less inclined we are to be lonely,” he said.

Unfortunately, accepting that friendship is important won’t magically resolve today’s friendship crisis. Factors like how common it now is to move away from where you grew up or went to school and to change jobs regularly make it harder for people to maintain old friendships. And the decline of civic organizations like churches or adult sports leagues complicates the process of finding new friends wherever you end up.

The good news is that making new friends and reconnecting with old ones is still within reach. But to achieve these goals in the year ahead you will have to shake up your social routines by, for example, walking instead of driving your kids to school.

“I do think it comes down to putting the time in,” Cox said.

Here are four ways to prioritize friendship in 2023:

1. Join a club, house of worship or other group that meets regularly

As Cox noted, membership in community organizations like churches is less common today than it was in the past. But that doesn’t mean these organizations can’t benefit a hunt for new friendships.

Any institution built around regularly scheduled events offers a helpful environment for forging new social connections, Cox said. After all, it’s less stressful to ask a potential new friend if they’re attending a preplanned church potluck or book club than to invite them over to your house out of the blue.

“You don’t need an institution to create a friendship, but the structure makes it a heck of a lot easier,” he said.

Marisa Franco, a psychologist who studies friendship, made a similar observation in a recent interview with The New York Times. She advised friendship-seekers to find a club that meets regularly and to keep going even if it feels awkward at first.

“Instead of going to a networking event, look for a professional development group, for example. Don’t go to a book lecture; look for a book club. That capitalizes on something called the “mere exposure effect,” or our tendency to like people more when they are familiar to us,” said Franco, the author of “Platonic: How the Science of Attachment Can Help You Make — and Keep — Friends.”

2. Look for friends, not best friends

If you’ve recently moved and feel like you’re building a new social network from scratch, it’s easy to get discouraged. Even a promising meet-up with a new acquaintance won’t feel the same as going to dinner with one of your longtime best friends.

In a 2022 essay for The Atlantic, writer Katharine Smyth acknowledged that searching for new friends can be overwhelming, but said it’s also a chance to explore more aspects of your own personality.

“Making friends in midlife, while challenging, might also be a gift, a chance to enlarge one’s world and one’s self. It sometimes feels at 40 as if our lives have assumed their final shape, entrenched as we so often are in our careers and cities and relationships. But to meet new people like Steph — ... who sees me as I am right now, not as who I used to be — is to acknowledge the growing that we all have left to do,” Smyth wrote.

Similarly, Cox said you shouldn’t go into a friendship search feeling as if you need to find someone who fits perfectly into your life and has dozens of things in common with you. It’s enough to find someone who is fun to shop with, hike with or stand with at the playground.

“You don’t have to go into this thinking you need to make a really, really close friend. Some of these less close social ties ... can add a lot to our lives,” Cox said.

3. Don’t put too much stock in social media

As our lives get busier and we see friends less, it’s tempting to think of social media sites like Instagram and Facebook as a shortcut to a meaningful connection. But liking someone’s post about their Christmas plans or new puppy isn’t the same as discussing these developments with them in person, friendship researchers said.

“If you’re using social media as a way to augment other social activities, it can be great. If you’re using it as a substitute, that’s probably not so good,” Cox said.

It’s also not good when scrolling through social media makes you feel lonely, Franco noted. You might log onto Facebook with plans to find some local events to attend but end up obsessing over pictures showing what friends and acquaintances have been doing without you.

“Social media ... can be a tool for connection, but mostly we use it just to lurk, which is related to increased loneliness and disconnection,” Franco said.

4. Believe in yourself

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When you’re looking for new friends, your attitude matters, according to Franco. It’s natural to be anxious, but you have to try to feel confident, too.

“You should assume people like you,” she told The New York Times.

Franco highlighted two areas of research to explain why she offers this advice. The first finds that strangers who share a casual chat generally like each other more than either party assumes. The second shows that self-confidence leads to more likable behavior.

“When people assume that others like them, they become warmer, friendlier and more open. So it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Franco said.

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