TIME psychology

The Lazy Way to an Awesome Life: 3 Secrets Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

We all want an awesome life. And very often you know what you need to do to improve it… but you don’t do it.

I don’t blame you. Hey, some of that stuff is hard. (I should know. I write about it all the time.)

Isn’t there an easy, passive way where your flaws start correcting themselves, you gain respectable goals and become much, much happier?

Well, at least in theory, there just might be. I called somebody to find out.

Nicholas Christakis, MD, PhD, MPH, is a professor at Yale University and directs the Human Nature Lab there. He is the author (with James Fowler) of Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives.

Here’s his TED talk:

Tons of research (and common sense) shows that the people around you influence your behavior. In fact, they influence it a lot more than you might think and probably more than you’re comfortable with admitting.

But here’s the really crazy part: not only do your friends affect your behavior, so do their friends. And their friends’ friends. Here’s Nicholas:

Across many different kinds of behavior: voting, cooperation, smoking, weight loss and weight gain, happiness, cooperative behavior, public health behaviors, we and others have been able to show that people are very meaningfully affected by the behaviors of other people to whom they’re connected. And here’s the kicker: they are also affected by the behaviors of people to whom they’re not directly connected. When your friend’s friends quit smoking or your friend’s friends friend become nicer and more cooperative, this ripples through the network and affects you. Similarly, when you make a positive change in your life, when you start running for example, or you participate in our democracy and you vote, it ripples outward from you and can affect dozens, hundreds, perhaps even thousands of other people.

So if you spend time with different people, could you become a different person?

Want the laziest way to improve your life? The prescription is simple…

 

1) Hang Around The People You Want To Be

The Longevity Project, which studied over 1000 people from youth to death had this to say:

The groups you associate with often determine the type of person you become. For people who want improved health, association with other healthy people is usually the strongest and most direct path of change.

In Charles Duhigg’s excellent book The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business:

In a 1994 Harvard study that examined people who had radically changed their lives, for instance, researchers found that some people had remade their habits after a personal tragedy… Just as frequently, however, there was no tragedy that preceded people’s transformations. Rather, they changed because they were embedded in social groups that made change easier… When people join groups where change seems possible, the potential for that change to occur becomes more real.

Many researchers I have spoken to, from Duke’s Dan Ariely to Cornell’s Brian Wansink, have emphasized context as the most powerful (and most ignored) catalyst for changing your life.

But what if you’re not even trying to make big changes in your life? What if you just want to be treated well? Turns out altruism and jerk-itude also move through networks. Here’s Nicholas:

We’ve shown that altruistic behavior ripples through networks and so does meanness. Networks will magnify whatever they are seeded with. They will magnify Ebola and fascism and unhappiness and violence, but also they will magnify love and altruism and happiness and information.

And the workplace isn’t much different. Behavior is contagious there, too.

Via The 100 Simple Secrets of Successful People:

Psychologists have observed that bad habits can spread through an office like a contagious disease. Employees tend to mirror the bad behaviors of their co-workers, with factors as diverse as low morale, poor working habits, and theft from the employer all rising based on the negative behavior of peers. – Greene 1999

When I spoke to Stanford GSB professor Bob Sutton, he told me his #1 piece of advice to students was this:

When you take a job take a long look at the people you’re going to be working with — because the odds are you’re going to become like them, they are not going to become like you.

(For more on how to get people to like you, from an FBI behavior expert, click here.)

So the people around you can unconsciously affect your behavior in many ways — positive and negative. Let’s focus on one thing we’re all interested in: happiness. Because this is where it gets really interesting…

 

2) Making Friends = Making Happiness

Would an extra $10,000 dollars a year make you happier? I’ll assume you’re nodding. Research shows 10K only provides a 2% increased chance of happiness.

Meanwhile, being surrounded by happy friends makes you 15% more likely to be happy.

Even if a friend of a friend of a friend becomes happier, that means a 6% chance you will become happier.

So the happiness of people you have never met — and may never meet — is three times as powerful as money.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

An extra $5,000 in 1984 dollars (which corresponds to about $10,000 in 2009 dollars) was associated with only a 2 percent increased chance of a person being happy. So, having happy friends and relatives appears to be a more effective predictor of happiness than earning more money. And the amazing thing is that even people who are three degrees removed from you, whom you may have never met, can have a stronger impact on your personal happiness than a wad of hundreds in your pocket.

A happy friend increases the likelihood of you being happy by 9%. An unhappy friend means a 7% decrease.

You don’t need a degree in accounting to figure out what that means: overall, more friends = more happiness.

Spending time making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money. So next time you meet up with a happy pal, ask them to bring a friend. Even a lazy person can manage that.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

We found that each happy friend a person has increases that person’s probability of being happy by about 9 percent. Each unhappy friend decreases it by 7 percent. So if you were simply playing the averages, and you didn’t know anything about the emotional state of a new person you just met, you would probably want to be friends with her. She might make you unhappy, but there is a better chance she will make you happy. This helps to explain why past researchers have found an association between happiness and the number of friends and family.

Here’s the really interesting part: you can totally rig the system. It’s the scientific version of karma.

With the effect spanning three degrees, there’s a good chance making a small effort to make friends happier will flow back to you.

Nicholas found that if a friend became happy in the past six months there’s a 45% chance your happiness will increase.

(For more on what you can learn from the happiest people in the world, click here.)

So, lazy bones, are you willing to send a couple emails or texts to dramatically increase your happiness? Here’s how.

 

3) Introduce Friends To Friends

Unsurprisingly, people at the periphery of a network have fewer friends and are more likely to be lonely.

And yes, that loneliness can flow back three degrees to you. (And no, you can’t easily track these people down and kick them out of your network.) Know what you can do? Introduce your friends to each other.

Again, happy friends means a 9% gain, unhappy friend means a 7% loss. All other things being equal, I’ll take those odds in Vegas any day. This strengthens the network, and increases everyone’s chance of staying happy.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives:

At the periphery, people have fewer friends; this makes them lonely, but this also tends to drive them to cut the few ties that they have left. But before they do, they may infect their friends with the same feeling of loneliness, starting the cycle anew. These reinforcing effects mean that our social fabric can fray at the edges, like a strand of yarn that comes loose from the sleeve of a sweater. If we are concerned about combating the feeling of loneliness in our society, we should aggressively target the people at the periphery with interventions to repair their social networks. By helping them, we can create a protective barrier against loneliness that will keep the whole network from unraveling.

(To learn the 4 most common relationship problems — and how to fix them, click here.)

So a few tiny efforts can yield massive positive change in your life. Let’s round up the details and learn two other fascinating tidbits that can change the way you see the world — and make that world a better place.

 

Sum Up

Here’s what we can learn from Nicholas:

  • Hang out with the people you want to be: Behaviors spread like a virus. Make sure it’s one you want to be infected with.
  • Make more friends. Time spent making friends has a higher happiness ROI than time spent making money.
  • Introduce friends to friends. Friends becoming happy increases your chance of happiness by 45%. Keeping the network happy protects you against unhappiness.

Other research Nicholas did turned up something truly heartwarming: friends are family. Quite literally. Here’s Nicholas:

We looked at the genetic similarity between friends and we found that on a very deep level you resemble your friends genetically. What this means is that, basically, your friends are kin that you choose. What we found in one of our papers was that, roughly speaking, your friends are something like your fourth cousin.

And one last thing: keep in mind that Nicholas’ research also gives you great power. And, as all good Spider-Man fans know, with “great power comes great responsibility.” Here’s Nicholas:

It’s very important for people to understand that when they make a positive change in their lives it doesn’t just affect them. It affects everyone they know and many of the people that those people know and many of the people that those people in turn know. If you make a positive change in your life it actually ripples through the social fabric and comes to benefit many other people. This recognition that we are all connected and that in our connectedness we affect each other’s lives I think is a very fundamental and moving observation of our humanity.

When you make a positive change in your life, it affects the people around you and ripples out to others.

So you can be lazy and see benefits by surrounding yourself with great people — but you can also choose to make strides in your life, even small ones, and contagiously pass those benefits to those you care about.

Making yourself a better person isn’t a gift you only give to yourself. It’s a gift you give to the world.

Spread the happiness virus! Share this with friends (and friends of friends, and friends of… you get it.)

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

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How To Stop Being Lazy And Get More Done – 5 Expert Tips

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New Harvard Research Reveals A Fun Way To Be More Successful

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME psychology

5 Things You Didn’t Know About Friendship, Backed by Research

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Eric Barker writes Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Some insights about friendship from research, with links to the studies:

  • Yawning can tell you who your real friends are.
  • More time with friends produces the happiness equivalent of an extra $133,000 a year.

For more on the science behind making new friends and strengthening the friendships you have, click here.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Education

How Classroom Curriculum Can Impact Children’s Friendships

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Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships

Friendship is often described as a major outcome of early childhood inclusive classrooms that support all children, irrespective of their abilities.

Friendships provide children with joy, laughter and comfort. They may also prevent later bullying and support smoother transitions into kindergarten for children with a range of disabilities. Friendships are considered a vital developmental milestone for all children.

Yet, developing close relationships may be difficult for some children. This is especially true for children who enter school without well-developed social-emotional skills. About 40% of children with disabilities, for example, enter kindergarten without developing age-appropriate skills in this area.

So, what impact does curriculum have on the development of friendships for children with disabilities? And how can teachers help nurture these friendships?

Investigating the impact of curriculum

To answer these questions, we conducted a study that included 110 kindergarteners, 26 of whom had disabilities, within six classrooms across a Midwest and a New England state.

This study took place as part of another longer-term research project in which teachers were randomly assigned to use either a “disability-awareness curriculum” or a modified science curriculum.

In our study, curricula included similar components of class-wide book readings and teacher-led discussions, “cooperative learning groups” (a teaching strategy that brings together groups of students with different abilities), and a classroom lending library to promote shared reading at home.

These curricula were chosen because they were alike in some ways. Both allowed teachers to focus discussions on similarities between the book content and kindergarteners. And both could include the three core components (ie, book reading, cooperative groups, and home literacy).

What we found surprised us. The number of close friendships among children with disabilities significantly increased in classrooms where the science curriculum was implemented.

Examining the results more closely

Implementation of the two curricula was designed to create similar opportunities for interactions between children with and without disabilities.

In their classrooms, children participated in similar activities: they were read books and encouraged to participate in discussions either about disability or science-related topics. Each week, children were able to take one of the books home that was read to them at school.

However, the cooperative learning groups were designed differently. In the cooperative learning groups for the science curriculum, children focused on science activities that were more outcome-orientated (eg, making bird nests, measuring worms).

In the cooperative learning groups for the disability-awareness curriculum, children participated in play-based activities with open-ended materials and toys (eg, farm animals and a barn, pretend kitchen set and food).

Our observations of children’s play during the cooperative learning groups suggest that participating children with disabilities may not have had the skills needed to fully engage in the group’s play.

For example, some children struggled to enter into ongoing play. During one such activity, a child was playing with a “pretend cash register” and another child with a disability wanted a turn with it. The child asked his peer if he could play with it. However, the peer said no.

In response, the child repeated his same question again and again, receiving the same response from his peer. The child with a disability did not have a broad repertoire of social or play skills to try other strategies such as asking if he might have a turn when the peer was done, or if he could trade roles with the peer (eg, become the cashier and suggest the peer become a shopper).

It seems that cooperative play is an area in which advanced or higher-level skills are needed to be successful. These skills include sharing materials, assisting peers, entering into ongoing play or offering a storyline for imaginative play.

The results from this study on friendships suggest that without these skills, children’s contributions to play may have been less successful, and peers may have viewed children with disabilities as less than ideal play partners.

In comparison, the science experiences such as making bird nests together, painting group posters with each child’s handprints on them and measuring the length of worms may have provided children with outcome-oriented tasks and the support needed to participate in ways similar to peers.

A shared activity with a common goal may have provided the structure that some children with disabilities needed to successfully participate alongside peers. In this arrangement, peers may have viewed classmates with disabilities as competent contributors to the group task.

Taken together, this could have been the reason for the increase in close classroom friendships for children with disabilities who participated in the science curriculum.

What can we learn from this?

First, there has been a lot of discussion focused on how play is no longer a valued part of kindergarten education in the United States. Also, kindergarten schedules leave very little room for play or for supporting the development of social-emotional skills.

Our results provide support for creating opportunities for children to learn through playful interactions. These findings also acknowledge that some children may enter school with limited social-emotional and play skills that are needed to form friendships. These children need teacher support and repeated classroom opportunities to master those skills.

Second, the debate of whether kindergarten classes should have either an academic or social focus must stop.

We believe that the structure of the science-based cooperative learning groups in our study may have served an important role in supporting the development of close friendships, especially for children with disabilities.

We also believe that social-emotional skill development, and the development of friendships, can occur across the school day depending on how teachers structure their classroom environment and schedule, and support learning outcomes.

What can teachers do?

Early childhood teachers can support the development of friendships by the way they structure activities in their classroom.

For example, teachers can purposefully place more social children next to quieter children during group activities. They can pair children who already have a budding relationship to do an activity together, or they can create activities in which small groups of children can interact while completing a project together.

Teachers can support the development of social skills through large and small group instruction. Also, teachers can provide individualized social skill instruction based on student needs, and on an individual basis as necessary.

Inclusive classrooms are a trend increasing in the United States. Teaching children how to share, how to handle anger and conflict, how to express their emotions and how to enter into ongoing play situations are all important skills for young children to learn. Some children might need more support than others to develop these skills.

Simply placing children with and without disabilities in the same classroom will not guarantee peer acceptance or friendships.

This article originally appeared on The Conversation

The Conversation

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME celebrities

Here’s How Taylor Swift Surprised Her Best Friend For Her Birthday

Reconfirming your suspicions that she's the best friend ever

For those who wished they were a part of Taylor Swift’s high-power girlfriend crew, here’s another instance of the pop star being the world’s best best friend.

Swift decided to give her high school friend, and often award show date, Abigal Anderson a 25th birthday surprise: A special sing-along performance by her all-time favorite band Dashboard Confessional.

Here’s how it unfolded, as told by Instagram:

The Surprise – Part One @abigail_lauren

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

The Surprise – Part Two @abigail_lauren

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

It was very well received.

The Surprise – The Finale @abigail_lauren @yelyahwilliams @dashboardconfessional

A video posted by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on

 

TIME Mental Health/Psychology

You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?

You Asked: How Many Friends Do I Need?
Illustration by Peter Oumanski for TIME

Maybe just a handful, though quality trumps quantity.

Friends do your health so many favors. They protect your health as much as quitting smoking and a great deal more than exercising, according to a large 2010 review in the journal PLOS One. More research has shown that socially isolated people are more than twice as likely to die from heart disease as those with a solid social circle.

“Strong social relationships support mental health, and that ties into better immune function, reduced stress and less cardiovascular activation,” says Dr. Debra Umberson, a sociologist at the University of Texas, Austin. Umberson says emotional support is just one of a dozen ways friends may safeguard your health and extend your life.

MORE Here’s How Hugs Can Prevent the Flu

Unfortunately, though, many of us don’t have enough of them. According to data from the General Social Survey (GSS), the number of Americans who say they have no close friends has roughly tripled in recent decades. “Zero” is also the most common response when people are asked how many confidants they have, the GSS data show. And adult men seem to be especially bad at keeping and cultivating friendships.

That may seem strange in the era of Facebook, Twitter and boundless digital connectivity. But the “friends” orbiting at the farthest reaches of your digital galaxy aren’t the ones that matter when it comes to your health and happiness.

The vital friendships—the pals you hug and laugh and lament with—are the ones who have the greatest impact on your health and happiness. You need between three and five of them for optimal wellbeing, suggests research from Dr. Robin Dunbar, an evolutionary psychologist at the University of Oxford.

Dunbar’s name comes up a lot when you start digging into the subject of friendship. From his early work studying the brains and social circles of primates, he recognized that the size of a human’s social network might be limited by the size of a certain part of the human brain called the neocortex, a critical site for higher brain functions. After some complicated study, he came up with a figure now known as “Dunbar’s number.”

That number—usually cited as 150, but actually a range between 100 and 200—is the approximate size of a person’s social circle, or the perpetually changing group of friends and family members that you would invite to a large party. While you may have far fewer than 150 of these people in your life, your brain really can’t hold a close connection with more than 150, Dunbar’s research shows. Within that group, he says your closest 15 relationships—including family members or “kin”—seem to be most crucial when it comes to your mental and physical health.

But that’s not to say a brother or sister offers you the same benefits as a close friend, Dunbar says. While your kin are more likely to be there for you when you need help, your good friends tend to fire up your nervous system and trigger the release of feel-good neuropeptides called endorphins. Whether you’re laughing with your pal or feeling him or her touch your shoulder in sympathy, the resulting rush of endorphins seems to “tune” up your immune system, protecting you from disease, Dunbar explains.

So yes, for the sake of your health, you need friends—ideally the really close kind you see face-to-face on a regular basis. But even one very good friend can improve your life in profound ways, says Dr. Mark Vernon, a philosopher, psychotherapist and author of The Meaning of Friendship.

Despite their value in terms of your health and wellbeing, don’t think of them as your personal social doctors. Vernon warns against turning your friends into what he calls “service providers”—that’s not what friendship should be about, he says, even if your pals are good for you.

In the end, Vernon says Ralph Waldo Emerson may have offered the best advice when it comes to making and keeping close pals: “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

Read next: 5 Types of Friends That Everyone Has

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TIME relationships

4-Year-Old Boy Gives His 90-Year-Old Veteran Best Friend ‘Friends Forever’ Dog Tag

The two developed an unlikely friendship

 

What started as an unlikely friendship between two neighbors grew into a beautiful bond.

The family of Emmett Rychner, 4, lived next door to 90-year-old WWII veteran Erling Kindem in Farmington, Minnesota, for the past decade, but only in the last year did Emmet and Erling become best friends, according to KARE 11. But then they were forced to split apart when Emmett’s family moved away and Kindem went into a retirement home.

That didn’t stop them from continuing to hang out. Emmett’s parents take him to the retirement home regularly and paid Kindem a special visit on March 1 to celebrate his 90th birthday, when the boy gave his older pal a present he’d never forget.

After singing “Happy Birthday,” Emmett pulled out two boxes, one for each other them. What was inside? Two dog tags, one reading “Emmett and Erling” and the other saying “Friends Forever.”

It all began when Emmett first became intrigued by Kindem’s tomato garden.

“Every time he saw me out there, he’d come running over,” Erling told KARE 11. “[Emmett would ask,] ‘Erling got any ‘mattoes?’ ”

From the beginning of their friendship, the pair has spent time together drawing pictures, riding bikes and lawnmowers and learning from each other.

“It is very special,” Emmett’s mom, Anika Rychner, said about their relationship.

When it was time for Emmett to leave the birthday party, Kindem said to him, “You come back again.”

“I will, eventually,” Emmett replied, and then went in for a heartfelt embrace. “Happy Birthday, Erling.”

This article originally appeared on People.com.

TIME relationships

5 Types of Friends That Everyone Has

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Because life is a journey we walk together through

The Comic Relief

Recently a close pal and I were both coping with very ill parents. There’s nothing funny about disease and dying, but for a whole year we compared notes in a humorous way. We each used hyperbole to describe our plights and made dark jokes about whose family situation was more depressing. We made fun to relieve our sadness (albeit temporarily), and that ability to make each other laugh helped us both get through the tragedy. Another good thing about a friend with a great sense of humor? She usually has warmth and compassion to spare.

Lucinda Rosenfeld is the author of four novels, including The Pretty One ($26, amazon.com) and I’m So Happy for You ($14, amazon.com). A former friendship and advice columnist for Slate, she lives in New York City.

The Life Coach

Because of our busy lives, I hardly ever speak to one of my closest friends. But it doesn’t really matter. When we do connect, without fail, she reinvigorates me. Her pep talks make me feel more hopeful about myself and my future. What’s more, my energizer friend is strong and tough, with a vigor for life I can feed off of. Through her example, she makes me more eager to achieve my goals or just keep tackling my everyday. Talking with her recharges my emotional battery until the next time we have a minute to pick up the phone.

Courtney Macavinta is the author of Respect ($16, amazon.com) and a cofounder of the Respect Institute, a nonprofit that offers youths the tools to build self-respect. She lives in New York City.

The Risk Taker

We all need an adventurous friend who nudges us out of the status quo—someone who introduces us to new ideas, philosophies, and activities that we might have otherwise not been exposed to or feared to explore on our own. I’ve long been inspired by a world-traveler friend whose preschooler’s passport has more stamps than most adults.’ She has helped me become less intimidated and more excited about traveling. In fact, thanks to her, my husband and I drove an RV across Canada two summers ago with our three children, who were all four or under. Scary? Yes. But we had so much fun, we’re going again this year.

Andrea Bonior, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of The Friendship Fix ($16,amazon.com). She lives in Bethesda, Maryland.

The Challenger

One characteristic we underrate in a friend is the ability to be brutally honest. That’s why I’ve always admired the friendship of the women’s rights leaders Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Susan B. Anthony. They led very different lives. Anthony was single; Stanton, a married mother of seven. And they continually and vociferously argued about temperance, abolition, sexual rights, and suffrage. But because they were able to challenge and educate each other, they accomplished much for females in the United States. It’s also why they remained close, trusted friends for more than half a century.

Mary Ann Dzuback, Ph.D., is the director of women, gender, and sexuality studies at Washington University, in St. Louis.

The Loyalist

Every woman needs a “hot mess” friend—by which I mean a friend you can be a complete wreck in front of. This pal can drop in unannounced when you’re looking your worst. You haven’t showered and the house is a total disaster, but she won’t judge you. More important, she’ll let you be emotional when you’re at a low point. Recently I was at dinner with a friend when I got the call that I hadn’t landed a big acting job. I tried to pretend that it was no big deal, but she didn’t buy it. She said, “I’d rather you talk about being bummed than wear a fake smile all night.” And so I vented my frustration at not getting the job, and she really listened. We all need a friend who hangs in there even when we’re not at our best.

Ariane Price is a member of The Groundlings, a famed improv troupe in Los Angeles. She blogs about her life at Tales of a Real Hollywood Mom.

This article originally appeared on RealSimple.com.

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TIME celebrities

See Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss on the Cover of Vogue

Mikael Jansson—Vogue Karlie Kloss and Taylor Swift on the March 2015 cover of Vogue

Plus a BFF photo-shoot

Not all best friends get to pose together on the cover of Vogue — but Taylor Swift and Karlie Kloss aren’t like normal best friends.

Their Vogue photo shoot is full of painfully beautiful images of the most aspirational type of female friendship: cuddling in the sunlight, baking cookies and strumming on a guitar, taking selfies in a convertible, all wearing impossibly gorgeous couture.

“People had been telling us for years that we needed to meet,” Swift tells Vogue. “I remember makeup artists and hair people going, ‘God, she and Karlie would be best friends.”

Once they were introduced by model Lily Aldridge, the chemistry was instant. “We were just like, ‘You. My friend. Now,'” Swift says.

So what are they doing for Galentine’s Day?

TIME Friendship

5 Ways to Celebrate ‘Galentines Day’ Like Lelise Knope

No boys allowed

While Parks & Recreation’s Leslie Knope was certainly not the first to make a girl’s celebration out of Valentine’s Day, she did it best.

“Ladies celebrating ladies,” she says of her annual pre-Valentines day brunch. “It’s like Lillith Fair, minus the angst. Plus, frittatas.” And that mentality is totally consistent with Knope’s code: “hos before bros, uteruses before dude-erusus, ovaries before brovaries.”

So here are 5 great ways to celebrate Galentines day in the spirit of civic-minded, lady-loving Leslie Knope.

1) Make pancakes with your girlfriends to the soundtrack of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 “Glass ceiling” concession speech, then discuss women in politics over brunch.

2) Play women’s-only charades, including only books or movies written by or about women. Consider team names like “Geraldine Ferraro” or “Ruth Bader Ginsberg.”

3) Enlist your friends in a high-stakes poker game, and then donate the winnings to the International Rescue Committee, to fund a year of a girl’s education (only $58 bucks.)

MORE 8 Fun, Not-Cheesy Ways to Celebrate Valentines Day

4) Binge watch Broad City (another Amy Poehler project) and take a shot every time Abbi or Ilana choose radical acceptance over judgement or competition. Take two shots when Bevers does anything revolting.

5) Dance party. Beyonce, Nicki Minaj and Taylor Swift only. No exceptions.

And no chocolate diamonds, under any circumstances.

Read next: It’s Better to Be Single on Valentine’s Day

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME women

I Was the Maid of Honor for a Girl I Bullied Mercilessly

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xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

I made her preteen life a living hell; years later I’d be walking with her family down the aisle

xojane

“Fatty, fatty, bom, bom!” I screamed, and the other 12-year-old girls around me laughed hysterically.

We pointed, laughed some more, shouted out similar chants, as we ran around our school’s racing track. There were five of us, and our energy was focused on one girl, running alone, tears welling up and nobody to help her. She was our victim; she was no match for the collective energy of a group of self-appointed “cool girls.”

We let the girl overtake us on the track while we ripped her apart in private conversation.

“Her boobs look so weird, she can’t even run with them.”

“She got her period so young, there must be something wrong with her.”

As the girl continued running, boys from our grade walked by on their way to soccer practice. Perfect timing for us, as we watched them shame her body too, echoing our sentiment, validating that we had a right to our behavior. The girl, named Felicity, nickname Flick, continued running.

A lot of people assume that when kids are mean, they don’t really know what they’re doing; that they’re harmless, really. I knew exactly what I was doing, and I knew how it would affect Flick, because I’d been a victim of it for years.

From when I was seven to 13, I had no friends. None, absolutely none. And I wasn’t just left alone to quietly get on with life; kids made fun of me constantly. I had headgear (followed by all other kinds of lisp-inducing braces), horrendous granny-floral glasses and, best of all, warts. A ton of warts on my hands and arms.

Not only was I visually destined to be an elementary school outcast, but pretty soon my personality changed to fit the profile, too. I wouldn’t understand for many years later that people, particularly kids, absorb the identities they are given by others.

I subconsciously developed nervous tics, including counting everything I did in eights, right down to the pieces of toilet paper I used. I obsessively repeated whatever people said to me under my breath, over and over again until someone else spoke to me and I’d change the sentence.

One afternoon, aged 10 in the girl’s locker room (a place designed for bad things to happen) I became so frustrated with the other girls sharing inside jokes I wasn’t a part of, and so paranoid they were talking about me, I slammed the hairbrush I was holding onto the floor. It terrified the girls, only making them more inclined to shout “freak.”

It terrified me, because I felt like one.

So it was pretty great for me when Flick showed up in school. Finally, I wasn’t the biggest weirdo in town. I was pretty relieved everyone seemed to be bored of picking on me, and had moved on to something else.

In my school, tormenting others was the top social currency. I soon realized that not only did I need Flick to distract people from my own inadequacies, but if I joined in with everyone else, maybe I’d finally be accepted.

So there I was, chasing her around the running track, making her sob, breaking her down mentally, like there was no tomorrow. Like I didn’t know what that felt like.

The irony was, of course, I didn’t really like the cool kids. I had nothing in common with them, and they with me. The person I liked the most, if I was honest with myself, was this girl I made cry every day.

When we first met, at the school’s “Welcome Day” for new students, Flick seemed so comfortable in her own skin, so at peace with herself that she gave off a magnetic energy. She wore one of those Lizzie McGuire-esque rainbow tie dye tops, and pink jelly sandals (which I was obsessed with, and my parents never let me get). I’d never met anyone my age like that, and I so desperately hoped that she would overlook my shortcomings, and just like me.

I only stopped bullying Flick when a teacher forced me. The teacher was cool, young, and most of the preteen girls saw her as an older cousin. It made it all the more humiliating when we were made to apologize to Flick and reprimanded for our shameful behavior. Later, we discussed how we couldn’t believe Flick lied and said we were bullying her. She obviously wanted attention.

Too scared of punishment to go near Flick, the girls soon turned their cruelty onto me. I was so, very livid—hadn’t I proved myself to be just like them by now? What had all that effort been for?

Everything came to a head the summer before eighth grade when I was invited to a sleepover party with just a few of the girls. I picked out my clothes and PJs meticulously. Maybe I’d fool them into thinking I’d gotten cool over the summer.

That night, the girls were unrelenting. It became very clear that I was simply there because they weren’t allowed to watch TV past 9 p.m.

They took chocolate cake and wiped it over my face, and I let them. We played one game, I can’t remember the rules for it, but I ended up naked and they laughed at how I had no breasts. I was confused—hadn’t we laughed at Flick for having breasts? I took my things into a corner and slept backward in my sleeping bag so the hood would cover my face and they wouldn’t be able to draw things on me while I slept. They put my hand in a bowl of hot water so I wet myself.

When my mother drove me home the next day, I cried hysterically and wouldn’t tell her what happened. When school started the next week, it was very clear to the class that I’d been demoted.

It didn’t take long for Flick to offer to be my friend. She’d gotten herself some of her own by that point — other girls who’d been bullied, they were sort of forming a club — and they took me in. There were no questions, no conditions; I wasn’t reverted to the bottom of a food chain because with them there wasn’t one.

It turned out that not only did Flick and I have a lot in common, we were pretty normal teenage girls; boy-obsessed, emotional, big on daydreaming. We shared secrets, we made each other scrapbooks.

Once we took the train from our suburb into London by ourselves, without permission, and way too young. As soon as we we frolicked out of the station, I remembered my mom would be picking me up in half an hour from her house, so we frolicked right back onto the train. I thought we were the coolest girls in the world.

Years later and eating dinner at Flick’s house, her kid sister burst out, “Didn’t you used to bully Flick?”

As I sat, frozen in shame, Flick replied, “Yeah… how embarrassing for her!” She winked at me, a familiar expression. That night, I gave her a long-overdue apology.

“When it happened to me, I wanted to die sometimes,” I said.

“Yeah,” she replied. “I know what you mean.”

Fast-forward to today, and my best friend is essentially winning at life. She graduated from the University of Cambridge (yes, that Cambridge) after a year of volunteering in Uganda. She survived a motorcycle crashing into her in Kampala and now calls it a “funny story.” She was elected into a full-time job as the President of Cambridge’s Student’s Union. She got her nose pierced. She still loves rainbow-colored anything. She now works with a teenage girl with Asperger’s Syndrome as her classroom aid.

And last summer, I walked down the aisle as her maid of honor, and watched her marry a loving man who is her equal in kindness and strength.

I had boyfriends in school but I call Flick my “first love” because she was the first person in my life who chose to love me. I wasn’t her family; I was a girl who had made her life hell for a long time. Our lasting friendship continues to teach me the power women gain when we forgive and lift each other up.

In one of the scrapbooks Flick and my other first friends made me, I wrote a note in the back page to myself:

“These are the best friends ever, you are too lucky to have them.

Never take them for granted

Always treat them with respect

Love them for what they are — themselves.”

Charlotte Lait wrote this article for xoJane.

Read next: Bullying Is Good For Your Health

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