America needs a Chief Friendship Officer

America is affected by a lack of friendship. The common American hasn’t made a new friend within the final 5 years. In line with the American Enterprise Institute’s American Views Survey from Could 2021, People report having fewer friendships than previously three a long time. Practically one in 5 People has no shut social connections, a double digit improve from 2013. Fifteen % of males have no close friendships in any respect, a fivefold improve since 1990. 

Loneliness and isolation are way more frequent experiences for individuals with few close friendships. Whereas loneliness could be detrimental to your health—elevating stress and irritation ranges, growing the chance of coronary heart illness, stroke, and even the development of Alzheimer’s—social connection is a lifeline. In line with psychologist and loneliness researcher Julianne Holt-Lunstad, social support can improve your probability of survival by 50%, be as useful as giving up smoking 15 cigarettes a day, and be extra vital to bodily well being than exercising or beating weight problems. If social connection and friendship are so basic to our well-being, why isn’t there a nationwide technique to foster it? 

The timing couldn’t be extra pressing. It turned abundantly clear through the pandemic that, with regards to our social well being, America lacks a social security internet. Practically two-thirds of younger individuals (and half of working moms) reported serious loneliness through the pandemic. The nonprofit group Sapien Labs discovered that, through the pandemic, 40% of respondents ages 18 to 24 reported feeling unhappiness, misery, or hopelessness, in addition to undesirable, unusual, and obsessive ideas. With practically two-thirds of People experiencing loneliness in 2019, loneliness was already a life-threatening epidemic—and that was earlier than a yr of elevated social isolation, lockdown measures, and expanded WFH practices attributable to COVID-19. 


It’s time for America to nominate a Chief Friendship Officer to work intently with the White Home and the Workplace of the Surgeon Basic to combine friendship and social connection into public coverage. The Chief Friendship Officer may craft a “Nationwide Friendship Technique” for serving to individuals meet strangers of their neighborhood, make new buddies, spend extra time with their family members, and be taught instruments for empathic listening and bridging variations in our polarized nation. New York Instances opinion columnist Michelle Goldberg recently wrote that loneliness is breaking America, explaining that socially disconnected voters usually tend to assist Donald Trump, be weak to believing conspiracy theories like QAnon, and be interested in totalitarian actions. 

A Nationwide Friendship Technique

The Nationwide Friendship Technique may create a “Bridging Variations in America Playbook” to provide individuals instruments for making buddies throughout the political aisle, which may push again in opposition to the right-wing media ecosystem that has preyed upon people who don’t have a robust social community. The Playbook may take inspiration from the superb Bridging Differences Playbook, created by the Bridging Variations Initiative of The Better Good Science Heart at UC Berkeley, which shares bridging abilities, akin to, “Assume good intentions, search counter-stereotypical data, pay attention with compassion, put individuals earlier than politics, perceive their values, deal with options (not identities), and determine frequent targets.” 

The Bridging Variations Playbook additionally shares case research of organizations that put these abilities into observe, like The People’s Supper, which organizes dinners for individuals throughout the political spectrum; Mismatch, which pairs college students with completely different views to have conversations with each other; Braver Angels, which holds occasions to interact liberals and conservatives in considerate and empathetic conversations; and Welcoming America, which works with native communities to assist them guarantee each newcomer belongs, together with immigrants. 

Friendship is inextricably linked with the only best problem going through the nation proper now: guaranteeing extra People get vaccinated. It’s clear that discovering trusted messengers and group leaders (like pastors and physicians) might help persuade somebody to get vaccinated. The Chief Friendship Officer may launch a celebrity- and influencer-filled social media marketing campaign known as “Vaxxed Buddies,” showcasing Instagram and TikTok movies about individuals who acquired vaccinated due to a shut buddy, member of the family, or trusted messenger. They might run TV and Fb advert campaigns with people from majority-unvaccinated communities that discuss how a lot their life has improved after being vaccinated—and displaying off all of the cool issues they’re now in a position to do with their buddies. 

Getting Company America Onboard

A Chief Friendship Officer may convene leaders of the nation’s largest corporations to develop distant and hybrid work insurance policies that might assist thousands and thousands of People make buddies and deepen social relationships the place they spend nearly all of their waking hours: the office. Individuals who have close relationships with their coworkers are 10 factors much less lonely on the UCLA Loneliness Scale. 

A Chief Friendship Officer may work with enterprise leaders and federal businesses to launch a Office Friendship Framework that units pointers for the way a lot time needs to be spent every week permitting workers to attach, speak, play, eat, and have nonwork-related conversations with one another—even when they’re working remotely. Workers who’ve a best friend at work are seven occasions extra engaged, so corporations have a vested curiosity in growing office connection. 


The Office Friendship Framework may additionally advocate family-friendly office insurance policies; like expanded paid household depart, childcare subsidies, a dwelling wage, a four-day workweek, accessible and reasonably priced psychological well being protection, and expanded entry to mentorship and peer teaching packages. The Framework would possibly even suggest new authorized buildings to acknowledge platonic partnership, to offer extra employees with advantages and incentives historically solely accessible to married individuals—particularly useful for millennials who’re delaying marriage or bypassing it altogether. 

The facility of figuring out your neighbors

A world examine by Nextdoor and prime loneliness consultants, together with Dr. Holt-Lunstad, discovered that figuring out whilst few as six neighbors reduces the probability of feeling lonely. The Chief Friendship Officer may set up a “Resilient Neighborhood Fee” to construct a toolkit of all the very best methods to attach together with your neighbors, learn how to make public areas extra partaking, a portal for making use of for micro grants for mutual-aid initiatives, and an internet library of assets and organizations that promote civic engagement and group participation. The Neighborhood Fee may assist public security activists and initiatives which might be searching for to reallocate assets from police departments to put money into inclusively designed community-led public security initiatives. 

The Neighborhood Fee may launch a “Resilient Neighborhood Fund” to revive neighborhood-based connection hubs like rec halls, youth facilities, senior facilities, intergenerational studying facilities, service-learning and volunteer packages, in addition to car-free streets and parklets, public swimming swimming pools, libraries, playgrounds, native facilities for arts schooling, and mutual help efforts that many cities and neighborhoods launched through the pandemic. 

The Neighborhood Fund may observe within the footsteps of the U.Ok., which appointed its first Minister for Loneliness and launched its inaugural loneliness technique in 2018, and later named 126 U.Ok. packages and initiatives that may profit from the federal government’s £11.5 million Building Connections Fund. Our Neighborhood Fund could possibly be a public-private partnership, paid for not by U.S. taxpayers, however as an alternative by social media corporations like Fb, who’ve made billions of {dollars} and extracted trillions of hours of human consideration within the title of social connection. Certainly Amazon, which has decimated retail companies throughout America, might help Fb foot the invoice. 

Furthermore, the Chief Friendship Officer may work with Congress, tech corporations, and advocacy organizations like The Heart for Humane Expertise to move laws that forestalls social media corporations from designing addictive and extractive apps for youngsters and youngsters. The Chief Friendship Officer may enact an “American Social Media & Psychological Well being Coverage” that encourages youngsters (and their dad and mom) to spend extra time face to face with their buddies, ensures social media apps kick customers off after a sure variety of each day utilization hours, and offers teen mental-health assist and assets to colleges and fogeys coping with alarmingly high rates of youngster anxiousness, melancholy, and suicide associated to elevated social media use.  

Twenty years in the past, in his e-book Bowling Alone: The Collapse and Revival of American Group, political scientist Robert Putnam painted a bleak image of belief in American establishments and social-groups participation in decline. Twenty years later, with the ubiquity of the smartphone and algorithmic social media information feeds which have sowed the seeds of distrust and misinformation, dividing an already polarized and remoted nation—and now a pandemic that has taken over half a million lives and ripped communities additional aside—American disconnection has reached a boiling level. 

In April 2020, a month after the pandemic started to rage throughout America, Dr. Vivek Murthy, who was confirmed earlier this yr by President Biden because the 21st Surgeon Basic of america, revealed a well timed bookend to Bowling Alone, titled Collectively: The Therapeutic Energy of Human Connection in a Generally Lonely World. The e-book chronicles Dr. Murthy’s expertise touring the nation whereas serving as Surgeon Basic through the Obama Administration, discovering that America’s best well being disaster was not weight problems or the opioid epidemic, however loneliness and isolation—which are sometimes danger elements for drug dependancy, continual ache, and different well being problems. Dr. Murthy argued that the best hope to make America wholesome was human connection: for us to look out for one another and are available collectively in occasions of ache. 

That point is now. We’d like an impassioned and coordinated name for connection and group from the best ranges of presidency. With out extra friendship in America, America goes to collapse. President Biden and Surgeon Basic Vivek Murthy ought to appoint a Chief Friendship Officer and launch a Nationwide Friendship Technique in the present day. 

Adam Smiley Poswolsky the writer of Friendship in the Age of Loneliness.