(CNN) — The connection that comes from friends, family and partners isn’t just nice to have — it’s crucial.

Nearly 1 in 4 adults across the world have reported feeling very or fairly lonely, a 2023 Meta-Gallup survey has found.

“For too long, loneliness has existed behind the shadows, unseen and underappreciated, driving mental and physical illness,” US Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy said in November.

Loneliness is a problem when it comes to getting help, and strong relationships are a solution.

Positive social experiences affect not only a person’s stress level and ability to cope but also are markers of physical health, according to a March 2023 study.

It may seem daunting to expand your connections, but here are five meaningful steps you can take to do so in 2024.

1. Start small

Whether making new friends, bringing existing ones closer or embarking on the dating scene, it’s OK to keep from getting overwhelmed and start small, said Adam Smiley Poswolsky, author of “Friendship in the Age of Loneliness,” in a previous CNN article.

Doing so can mean sending a text to check in with someone once a week, meeting one new person a month or planning a regular social outing.

“If you do just one thing, make a list of five people in your life that you care about, and give one of them a phone call,” added Poswolsky, a workplace belonging expert. “The most remarkable friendships often begin with tiniest moments of connection.”

Research shows that it takes 90 hours of time together to consider someone a friend and more than 200 hours to consider them a close friend with whom you have an emotional connection, he said.

“In our busy world, we need to put our friendship on the calendar, and commit to recurring activities,” Poswolsky said.

2. Set boundaries

Believe it or not, better connection with others may require you to set strong boundaries.

“It’s not just about conflict and keeping bad people out. It’s also about keeping the relationships you value in,” said Kami Orange, a boundary coach based in southern Utah, in a previous CNN article.

Boundaries are communications of your needs, wants and expectations, and you may need to set boundaries with your partner about your needs when it comes to personal space or preserve your relationship with parents by setting boundaries on what you expect from them around your children.

“A good boundary is clear and concise,” said Nedra Glover Tawwab, a therapist based in Charlotte, North Carolina. “I think very often we say a lot of words, but we’re still not very clear about what we want.”

Instead of stating a problem such as, “You always pick on me about my kids,” it is important to say what you need, Tawwab said in an earlier article. An invitation to do something in the future would help, she added.

3. Learn about yourself

Do you know how you attach to others? Or how your loved ones are attached to you? The answer to those questions can help strengthen your relationships.

First developed by psychoanalyst John Bowlby in the 1950s, attachment styles describe how people function in relationships when it comes to closeness, intimacy and potential threats.

There are four styles: avoidant, anxious, disorganized and secure. You can learn more about them in a 2023 CNN article.

Knowing about these styles can help in your relationships with friends, family, colleagues and romantic partners, according to research.

4. Learn how to have conflict

Not only does fighting happen, but it can be healthy, according to a previous CNN article.

The key is to fight with those you love in a productive way — meaning one that solves problems and brings you closer together.

Social psychologist David W. Johnson studied conflict and labeled five archetypes of how people tend to handle it: turtles, sharks, teddy bears, foxes and owls.

Turtles, for example, tend to withdraw, while sharks forcefully protect their own goals, and owls view conflict as a problem that needs solving. Foxes tend to compromise, and teddy bears sacrifice to keep the peace.

Knowing your attachment and conflict style can help to understand how you approach a fight with your loved ones, and research suggests that approach can be modified.

5. Express your gratitude

A simple “thank you” can go a long way.

Research from 2023 showed that couples who express gratitude to one another when they feel it increased their time together by more than an hour a day.

The key is to identify gratitude and express it authentically, not sit down and recount nice things your friend, family member or partner did that you could remember.

Your relationship doesn’t need to get stuck in a rut, even as it evolves out of the butterfly stage, said Sara Algoe, a professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in a previous CNN article. Algoe is founder and director of The Love Consortium, a group of researchers studying data around social connection.

“It may be impossible to recapture the giddy joy of falling in love,” Algoe said, “but it doesn’t take much to rediscover the things we love about our partner and strengthen our relationship in the process.”