In today's fragmented society, many people live alone or in very small households. This can be lonely and unsatisfying. It also poses practical challenges, because there are fewer people to take over somebody's tasks during illness, and fewer skills available to handle household needs. For people who find this situation uncomfortable, one solution is to strengthen connections and create new ones. Reach out to relatives, friends, neighbors, coworkers, schoolmates, and other people around you.
Start small. Smile at people and wish them a good day. Talk about the weather or local events. Ask what's going on in their lives. When someone has their hands full, open the door for them. When you're outside and someone walks by, wave and say hello; same if you're out walking and you pass someone in the yard. Greet backyard or sideyard neighbors over the hedge. If you are open and cheerful, more people will find you approachable and likable.
Watch for opportunities to meet people. It's easiest to become close to people whose lives already cross yours: neighbors, people who work at businesses you frequent, people who belong to the same church or club, etc. Volunteering is another good opportunity. Make a point of going to community events such as street fairs, art showings, flea markets, sidewalk sales, mall shows, holiday festivals, farmer's markets, and so forth. Strike up a conversation with someone who lands next to you in a long line, on a bench, in front of a booth -- the event gives you something common to talk about. Don't pester anybody, but rather listen for someone to jump into the conversation with enthusiasm.
With people you see frequently, give them tidbits of news about what's going on in your life. Some folks enjoy that and will respond with interest. Ask about their news. With people you don't see often, such as club members at monthly meetings, start conversations with the common topic and then loop around to something like "What's new in your life since last month?"
A good next step is sharing a social event. Inviting acquaintances to a barbecue, luncheon, block party, etc. can strengthen the connection. If you have a common interest and there's a related event coming up, invite someone to come with you. Suggest carpooling to work or for activities such as plant shopping.
When networking, it helps to offer a favor before asking a favor. If you listen to people talking, they often drop clues about current challenges in their lives. When you hear something that falls into your area of expertise, mention it: "I'm sorry to hear that your car is in the shop. Do you need a ride to the club this weekend? I could pick you up." (Don't assume that people need or want help, but let them know it's available if they do.) When asking for a favor, try to find someone who can do it comfortably. Be thankful for favors you receive, because people like to feel needed and appreciated.
You can use networking to fill in particular gaps in your social circle. Think about what you need or want, and what you have to offer in exchange. Look for people with complementary needs and skills.
If you love children but don't currently have any in your immediate circle, look for parents who are seeking to expand their support network. Single parents especially need close friends who enjoy having children around, who can get together with parents for mature conversation, who are tolerant of child-caused schedule changes, and/or who can provide occasional babysitting. Also keep an eye out for shared housing that includes children -- as more people band together in households, there are more opportunities to have children under the roof without creating them yourself.
If you have children and want to expand their playmates, your peers, and/or possible babysitters then watch for matches in that direction. There are organizations that help connect parents, but you can also just go to a park and chat with whomever else is sitting on the bench watching the swings. Teen parents especially benefit from supportive relationships with older parents. A circle of friends can bundle several people's kids together with one chaperone to watch a children's movie while the other adults watch a different movie. If you're cash-poor but you know what your friends want or need, you can often barter for babysitting in exchange for homemade bread, garden produce, car trips, etc. For crafters, hour-for-hour barter is terrific.
If you're a younger person interested in connecting with elders, look for ones who share some common interests with you and want to make new friends. Also check your neighbors because it's easiest to connect with people you see frequently. Practice your listening skills; most people like a good listener, and many elders are full of interesting stories. Once you've gotten to know each other a bit, compare the skills and resources you each have with what needs doing. As people age, their role in society tends to shift from being primary producers and caretakers to being secondary in those areas and primary sources of knowledge and culture, though individuals may vary. So you might do the tilling in both gardens in exchange for your friend's input on which plants grow best in your area, or drive your neighbor to the store in exchange for having your cats fed when you're away from home.
If you're an elder and you want to stay active in community, look for ways to connect with people of different ages. One good way is by volunteering; pick something suited to your activity level and interests. Leading nature walks, reading aloud at libraries, and demonstrations at craft shows are all excellent. During the growing season, some nurseries and farmer's markets have experienced gardeners available to answer questions. During the holidays, malls may have a table of volunteers to wrap gifts. Another good method is maintaining traditions. If you're good at planning events, listen for people to talk about special occasions, such as graduation or an expected baby, that aren't being celebrated because the person doesn't have a friend or family member to organize something. Ask if they'd like you to do that. A group of friends might form a tradition of monthly potlucks or game nights or movie trips. If there are things you need help with, watch for people who can do those things and would welcome some of the things you can do in exchange.
In general: Know what you have to offer and what you want or need. Put yourself into situations with chances to socialize. Be friendly. Stay alert for opportunites and act on them by making overtures to people near you. Especially, watch for people who are lonely, separated from friends and family, or ostracized for some reason: they are more likely to be in need and desire of new friends and then you can help each other. Initiate conversations and contacts rather than waiting for someone else to do so. Start small and build on common ground, then strengthen those relationships that prove mutually rewarding. Aim for a balanced exchange of time, energy, favors, and interest; not necessarily the same things, but similar amounts. If the first few people you approach aren't interested in connecting, that's okay, just keep trying -- someone else will be. Believe that you are someone worth knowing, and that there are people out there whom you would enjoy knowing too.