Meaningful social connection is essential to our well-being, but we often put it on the back burner to focus instead on work and our seemingly endless to-do lists. When we do have some precious free time, we mistakenly think that interacting with our friends over social media is as valuable as interacting with them in person. Luckily, there’s a booming market of apps and services designed to encourage more meaningful relationships. Here are eight to try.
1. Meetup: Connecting over shared interests is the easiest way to kick-start new friendships, and Meetup helps you do just that. The app lets you choose from a wide variety of activities in your area based on what you already enjoy doing or would like to try (cooking, volunteering, learning to speak a new language, etc.). Once you choose an activity, you’re presented with upcoming events nearby that you can attend.
2. DEED and GiveGab: Community service meets socializing in the apps DEED and GiveGab. Both apps make it easy to find places to volunteer for the causes that mean the most to you and meet like-minded people in the process. You can also share your activities with your social network through integrations with platforms like Facebook, which makes it easy to inspire your friends, family and colleagues to get involved with you.
3. Moment: The Moment app helps you be mindful of the time you spend on your smartphone by monitoring your app usage, potentially enabling you to open up time to spend with friends and family. With the family version of the app, fittingly called Moment Family, you can track your kids’ screen time and set up time periods when the entire family goes screen-free. It’s a simple way to teach your kids about healthy screen habits while also improving your own. Try it during your next family dinner.
4. Who’s In: This Microsoft app solves an age-old challenge: trying to gather people without dealing with group texts and never-ending email chains to finalize your plans. Who’s In allows you to invite people to existing events—like a movie or concert—or suggest an event of your own. The app neatly packages your chosen event in a text that includes pertinent information like the date, time and location with the option to suggest a few alternative times and dates. The best part is that recipients give a simple thumbs up or thumb down to indicate their availability, streamlining your planning and getting you connected in-person as fast as possible.
5. Nike + Run Club: Whether you’re an experienced runner or just getting started, Nike + Run Club is a simple way to connect and compare workouts with your friends and other runners around the world. The fitness-and-social app offers standard perks like detailed progress reports on your runs and the option to sync with your favorite music, but you can also challenge your friends to meet specific goals. A bit of healthy competition might up the intensity of your workout: A recent MIT study found that running might be socially contagious, meaning going faster or longer on your own runs can motivate your friends to do the same.
6. Online book clubs: A book club is the perfect way to make reading a part of your regular routine, while connecting with others in the process. There are hundreds of online groups to choose from, like those on Goodreads and Real Simple’s No-Obligation Book Club. A quick Google search can help you find the club that best suits your literary tastes, or you could start your own in a Facebook group. No time to read a book? Make it a short story club!
7. HelloTalk: Learning a new language is a scientifically proven brain booster, and HelloTalk connects you with people around the world to make the process easier. Whether you’re planning an upcoming vacation and want to be able to communicate in the local language or just brushing up on your high school Spanish, the app will connect you with a native speaker so you can chat in the language you’re trying to learn. Not only does it provide a quick and easy way to practice, but it also introduces you to a worldwide community of learners, while giving you the chance to help others learn your own native language, too.
8. Meet My Dog: Yes, there’s an app that you and your dog can benefit from. Meet My Dog helps nearby dog owners connect with other people (and pets), which not only gives your pup a new pal to play with, but encourages you to get out of the house and make new human friends, as well. Meet My Dog can turn a potentially isolated activity—walking your dog—into a social one, and bringing man’s best friend along is an easy way to ease some of the awkwardness of meeting new people.