Not having enough friends has the same risk factor as smoking 15 cigarettes a day.

People who have strong friendships tend to live longer than those who don’t. This is good news for the social butterflies out there, but what about the rest of us?

Life comes with a slew of opportunities to make new friends. Wouldn’t it be nice if it also came with some sort of how-to guide?

When we’re desperate to make new friends, a lot of us pretend to be someone we’re not. This is a huge mistake!

Agreeing with someone’s point of view or interests for the sake of getting along only leads to problems down the road. So let’s take a look at what you should do instead. Using a handful of psychological studies, we’ve put together four steps to answer all your questions.

Like where can I meet new people? And how important is small talk?

1. Be a good listener, and seek common grounds.

Being a good listener is an easy way to bond. According to a neuroscience study from Princeton University, your brain gets more pleasure from talking about yourself than it does from food or money, so give potential friends the opportunity to do so by asking lots of questions.

Research has shown that people who get to know each other by asking lots of questions are consistently rated ‘more likable’ than those who ask fewer questions.

Asking questions of a person gives you an excellent chance to learn about the possible similarities you have. Highlight these similarities, as they can lead to future activities and discussions you can share.

2. Share Personal Information.

A 1997 study at Stony Brook University brought together pairs of strangers to discuss a series of increasingly personal topics. In a span of 45 minutes, they were told to question each other’s feelings and experiences on everything from daily life, to childhood memories.

At the end of the sessions, these pairs reported feeling much closer to each other than other pairs who’d engaged in simple small talk. Vulnerability and self-disclosure are key ingredients in creating intimacy with someone, just make sure you only share personal information when it’s appropriate.

3. Join A Social Group, Based Around a Hobby or a Passion.

Whether it’s a gym class, a book club, or volunteering, joining a social group is a great way to meet like-minded people that you wouldn’t run into through your daily routines.

Seeing these people on a regular basis also allows you to take advantage of a psychological phenomenon known as ‘the exposure effect.’

This refers to the idea that the more often you’re exposed to someone, the more likely you are to like the person.

4. Be positive!

It might sound simple, but a positive attitude is one of the best ways to attract healthy relationships. Positive body language like smiling and making eye contact is usually the first way to break the ice with someone.

And once you’re engaged in conversation, keep the positivity coming! Make jokes if you can; laughter relaxes people and makes them more likely to share personal information about themselves.

Here’s a little tip from me to you, no matter what you do in your quest to make friends, try not to get stressed out about it. Remember that there are many others out there also looking to connect, and sometimes all it takes is for one of you to reach out.