Shy away: making new friends

Written by Suraj Shah.

After the loss of a loved one, do you find it hard to make new friends?

Recently I have been offering bereavement support to an elderly woman who, after losing her husband, was sad to also lose her social life.

This is a woman who grew up as a shy girl in a large family where she did not need to make new friends. She had moved half-way across the world when she married and the only friends she had since then were her husband’s male friends and their wives.

When her husband died, suddenly the dinner parties stopped, those friends no longer visited her, and with her family living too far away she became very lonely at home. Put off by insincere people and scared about people’s motives, she became reluctant to make new friends.

This woman asked me what she could do to make new friends.

From shy to sociable

When I was young, I too was incredibly shy. So much so that I even bought a book on “How to start a conversation and make friends”. I was so embarrassed about it that I hid the book in my bedroom cupboard to hide my shame.

Then at the age of 16 something changed. It all started with a smile.

I was waiting for a bus to school, like I had been that whole term, when an attractive woman in her mid-20s approached the bus stop. Even though I had noticed her earlier that week, I did something different that day. Rather than dodging eye contact and staring at the pavement, I looked straight into her eyes and said “hi!” with a smile. She smiled and said “hi” back.

That day, my life transformed. I lost my shyness and started initiating fun and playful conversations, some of which turned into warm long-term friendships.

Now I can confidently pick up the randomest conversations with the randomest of people in the randomest of places. My wife sometimes has to give me a stern look so that I remember to pay her more attention than I do to those around us!

Tips for overcoming shyness and initiating conversations

Starting a conversation is easier than you may think. Try some of these out and let me know how you get on:

  • Smile: Clearly it worked for me when I was 16. A geninue smile is incredibly powerful. It gives off a feeling of warmth and friendliness to another person and helps to spark an initial connection.
  • Where to make new friends: Hang out at places where you are likely to find others with similar interests: specialist bookshops; cafes; museums; galleries; parks. Chances are, you may just find someone to talk to in the train or at a bus stop.
  • Use the props: Look at what they are carrying — a musical instrument, a book you recognise, interesting jewellery or footwear. Comment on it.
  • Listen: Listen deeply to what they are saying and relay back a few things that you pick up from their words to check you’ve understood correctly. Once you’ve done that, add something from your own perspective.
  • There is always something to contribute: You do have something valuable to say and can positively contribute to any conversation.  Always remember that.
  • Appreciate their qualities: If you have observed something about them that you admire, grow that feeling in your heart, remembering that you would only notice it in someone else if you had it (even on a small level at first) within yourself.
  • Not everyone wants to talk: Some people would prefer not to get into a conversation – usually out of fear about talking to strangers or their own discomfort, and they are very happy just with themselves. That’s ok – let them be and move on.

Once you start to initiate conversations and make new friends, you’ll quickly see how fun and simple it is to do.  Enjoy the process and learn more about yourself through new people you meet.

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Love overcomes loss

Written by Suraj Shah.

We know that love is extraordinary.

We know love has the power to build bridges and break barriers.

We know that love can bring rise to our greatest qualities while conquering our most stubborn enemies.

We know that love has the power to deliver freedom from pain and bring about eternal happiness.

So how does love do all this, and how can we strengthen it in our lives?

I love you, and I’m thankful for you

In a Zen Habits post, Leo Babauta writes about a powerful algorithm for happiness.

He suggests using the phrase “I love you, and I’m thankful for you” in our day to day relationships.

Leo writes:

Look at each person you pass or encounter today, and think to yourself (as if you’re talking to the person you’re looking at), “I love you, and I’m thankful for you.” Try to say it with feeling. Mean it! Even to those you pass on the street, in the elevator, while you’re driving (you might only see them for a split second, from a distance).

When I applied it, I discovered that love transformed tense situations into calm and generous relationships. I found that I felt better, I felt real, I felt like I could move forward with my day.

This phrase works when we are experiencing the loss of a loved one. When someone we love is no longer around, feelings of sadness, anger and guilt come about in us. Often, great stress is placed on our closest relationships. Through our oscillating emotions, we push away the very people we need during delicate moments in life.

But by thinking “I love you, and I’m thankful for you” and truly meaning it, you will find that it drastically transforms tense relationships into ones of care and support.

Here’s what love does for us…

Love enhances the feeling of friendship

When you love someone, it brings about a feeling of care for their well-being.

You want them to come to no harm.

You want them to grow and discover their true selves. You are supportive of their decisions and you help them up nomatter how many times they may fall.

Love enables appreciation

When you love someone, when you are thankful for them, you discover and magnify their qualities. You feel great joy at observing what is great about them.

These same qualities that you observe in them start to grow in you.

The more you see them from a positive perspective, the more you benefit from the development of these qualities in your own life.

Love grows compassion

When you love someone, you want to protect them from fear and pain. You want to do whatever is in your power to shelter them from the harmful forces of the world.

Of course, you can only give to someone when you have it to give in the first place.

So it reminds you of the gifts you hold within you. It reminds you of the greatness you possess within you that can help someone else through a hard time.

Love tolerates through equanimity

When you love someone, you are willing to embrace them completely. You patiently listen to what they say, nomatter how they say it, and you simply observe their actions.

Free from expectation or frustration, you tolerate their every expression, and realise that they are not all too different from you.

Like you, they want love. Like you, they want to be heard, to be understood, to be cared for.

So looking at them with eyes of love communicates just that – you love them and you care for them, and nothing else matters.

Apply love in every interaction, every day

When you lose someone you are fond of, it can be very difficult for you and the people who want to support you through this loss. But what helps make it smoother is thinking and feeling “I love you, and I’m thankful for you” in your everyday interactions.

In relationships with those who are still around you, realise that the love that you possess at this delicate time can bring about deeper friendships, appreciation for the qualities of others, wider compassion for those who would benefit from your support, and great calmness through tolerance and equanimity.

When you lose someone, do something about it. Love those who are still around you. It will help you lead a calm and purposeful life.

Regrets of the dying

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Bronnie Ware, republished with permission from her blog Inspiration and Chai.

For many years I worked in palliative care. My patients were those who had gone home to die. Some incredibly special times were shared. I was with them for the last three to twelve weeks of their lives.

People grow a lot when they are faced with their own mortality. I learnt never to underestimate someone’s capacity for growth. Some changes were phenomenal. Each experienced a variety of emotions, as expected, denial, fear, anger, remorse, more denial and eventually acceptance. Every single patient found their peace before they departed though, every one of them.

When questioned about any regrets they had or anything they would do differently, common themes surfaced again and again. Here are the most common five:

1. I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.

This was the most common regret of all. When people realise that their life is almost over and look back clearly on it, it is easy to see how many dreams have gone unfulfilled. Most people had not honoured even a half of their dreams and had to die knowing that it was due to choices they had made, or not made.

It is very important to try and honour at least some of your dreams along the way. From the moment that you lose your health, it is too late. Health brings a freedom very few realise, until they no longer have it.

2. I wish I didn’t work so hard.

This came from every male patient that I nursed. They missed their children’s youth and their partner’s companionship. Women also spoke of this regret. But as most were from an older generation, many of the female patients had not been breadwinners. All of the men I nursed deeply regretted spending so much of their lives on the treadmill of a work existence.

By simplifying your lifestyle and making conscious choices along the way, it is possible to not need the income that you think you do. And by creating more space in your life, you become happier and more open to new opportunities, ones more suited to your new lifestyle.

3. I wish I’d had the courage to express my feelings.

Many people suppressed their feelings in order to keep peace with others. As a result, they settled for a mediocre existence and never became who they were truly capable of becoming. Many developed illnesses relating to the bitterness and resentment they carried as a result.

We cannot control the reactions of others. However, although people may initially react when you change the way you are by speaking honestly, in the end it raises the relationship to a whole new and healthier level. Either that or it releases the unhealthy relationship from your life. Either way, you win.

4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.

Often they would not truly realise the full benefits of old friends until their dying weeks and it was not always possible to track them down. Many had become so caught up in their own lives that they had let golden friendships slip by over the years. There were many deep regrets about not giving friendships the time and effort that they deserved. Everyone misses their friends when they are dying.

It is common for anyone in a busy lifestyle to let friendships slip. But when you are faced with your approaching death, the physical details of life fall away. People do want to get their financial affairs in order if possible. But it is not money or status that holds the true importance for them. They want to get things in order more for the benefit of those they love. Usually though, they are too ill and weary to ever manage this task. It is all comes down to love and relationships in the end. That is all that remains in the final weeks, love and relationships.

5. I wish that I had let myself be happier.

This is a surprisingly common one. Many did not realise until the end that happiness is a choice. They had stayed stuck in old patterns and habits. The so-called ‘comfort’ of familiarity overflowed into their emotions, as well as their physical lives. Fear of change had them pretending to others, and to their selves, that they were content. When deep within, they longed to laugh properly and have silliness in their life again.

When you are on your deathbed, what others think of you is a long way from your mind. How wonderful to be able to let go and smile again, long before you are dying.

Life is a choice. It is YOUR life. Choose consciously, choose wisely, choose honestly. Choose happiness.

(Photo courtesy of timsnell)

Bronnie Ware is an inspirational writer and songwriter from Australia. Her much-loved blog, Inspiration and Chai, has over a million readers a year. Based on this article, Bronnie has recently written a full-length book about her years working with dying people. It is full of personal stories of honesty and inspiration, and will be released in the second half of 2011. For more information, please visit her official site at