Yes, You Should Reach Out to That Friend You’ve Been Thinking About

New research shows that reaching out to friends and acquaintances can positively impact both parties.

We’ve all been in a position where life gets busy, schedules are difficult to coordinate and connecting with friends feels harder than ever. In fact, Americans currently happen to be in a friendship recession. With some friendships, we may lose touch and want to reconnect. However, the more time that passes, the more uncertain it can feel if they want to hear from us.

Well, a recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology says it’s time to reach out. Researchers found numerous benefits when reaching out to friends and old acquaintances. Especially if you’re unsure of how well they’ll receive hearing from you.

What was the study?

The study, led by Dr. Peggy Liu, is called “The Surprise of Reaching Out: Appreciated More Than We Think.” In the study, researchers posed the question: “Do people accurately understand how much other people value being reached out to by someone in their social circle?”

To answer this question, researchers carried out 13 experiments with more than 5,900 participants. In the experiments, researchers measured how much people estimated their friends or acquaintances would appreciate them reaching out versus how much those on the receiving end did appreciate it.

They also examined different forms of communication—phone calls, texts, emails, notes or even small gifts—and their impact.

And the results were telling.

What do the results show?

Smiling black woman with african turban using smartphone at homeRidofranz/Getty Images

Over the series of experiments, experts discovered a similar trend: those reaching out significantly underestimated how much their friends would appreciate hearing from them. Plus, the more unexpected the communication was, the more the friend on the receiving end appreciated it.

“People are fundamentally social beings and enjoy connecting with others,” the researchers wrote.

In fact, what made these moments of reaching out so impactful was the effort they showed—no matter the form of communication.

Dr. Amie Gordon, a social psychologist at the University of Michigan, emphasizes the importance of small moments and making efforts in relationships in a Psychology Today article. “In a busy life, these little moments might feel just like that—little moments that don’t really matter… But each moment we ignore is a missed opportunity to connect and build up an emotional bank of positive moments.”

The science is clear—people appreciate the effort we put into our friendships. And we greatly underestimate it.

Why do we underestimate the impact of reaching out?

One phenomenon that may explain why those who reached out underestimated their positive impact is because of “the liking gap.”

Psychologist Terri Apter writes in Psychology Today that the liking gap is a predisposition to “how we often underestimate other’s responses to us,” and the reality that other people like us more than we may think.

“We would do well to acknowledge and manage self-criticism… and assume that others see the best in us,” says Apter.

What do the results mean?

Overall, the findings tell us that our friendships matter and that we are more well-liked and well-received than we know.

“If there’s been someone that you’ve been hesitating to reach out to, that you’ve lost touch with perhaps, you should go ahead and reach out, and they’re likely to appreciate it much more than you think,” says Dr. Liu.

Two young women as best friends dancing together in purple clothes in front of an orange wallFlashpop/Getty Images

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Jessica Kaplan
Jessica Kaplan is an assistant editor who has written lifestyle content for Reader’s Digest, Family Handyman and The Healthy. Her expertise includes travel and restaurant news. These days, she creates timely trend content for Taste of Home. When she’s not writing, Jessica is bound to be planning out her next trip, trying out a new coffee spot or listening to a podcast.