Be A Good Friend
Be a good friend – that’s the next step in our happiness plan. As a reminder, our other steps are:
Be A Good Friend
To have a good friend you must first be a good friend. It is critical to your mental, physical and spiritual health, as well as your happiness and longevity to have good friends.
A 2010 review of several research studies reached an interesting conclusion: from a life-span perspective, strong social ties are twice as likely to extend your life as exercising is, and equivalent to that of quitting smoking. Harvard’s long-running Study of Adult Development begun in 1938 supports this, and points to friendships being a strong predictor of a happy life, as well. Dr. Robert Waldinger, the current director of this study, says the most important important barometer of long term health and well-being is in the strength of your relationships.
“Over and over in these 75 years,” Dr. Waldinger said, “our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships with family, with friends and with community.”
You don’t have to maintain dozens of relationships in order to derive the health benefits. In fact, quite the opposite. It’s the quality, not the quantity of friends that counts the most.
You may have hundreds of digital friends in the social media world but most of us have only a handful of strong, real, analog, carbon-based friends. In fact, Robin Dunbar, a professor of evolutionary anthropology at the University of Oxford, has a body of research showing humans can only support about 150 total relationships.
This so-called Dunbar’s Number is actually several numbers, with 150 being “casual friends”. The next step down is “close friends” of which we can have about 50. Next is a circle of 15 people we can confide in and count on for sympathy when we need it. Finally, there are five people in your life that are your “best friends”, your close support group, most of whom typically are family members.
Yet another study at the University of Oxford indicates that most people have only five to eight really close friends.
“Although social communication is now easier than ever,” says Felix Reed-Tsochas of the Said Business School at the University of Oxford, “it seems that our capacity for maintaining emotionally close relationships is finite.”
Alex Lickerman, M.D., defines good friends in an article in Psychology Today.
A commitment to your happiness. A true friend is consistently willing to put your happiness before your friendship. It’s said that “good advice grates on the ear,” but a true friend won’t refrain from telling you something you don’t want to hear, something that may even risk fracturing the friendship, if hearing it lies in your best interest. A true friend will not lack the mercy to correct you when you’re wrong. A true friend will confront you with your drinking problem as quickly as inform you about a malignant-looking skin lesion on your back that you can’t see yourself.
Not asking you to place the friendship before your principles. A true friend won’t ask you to compromise your principles in the name of your friendship or anything else. Ever.
A good influence. A true friend inspires you to live up to your best potential, not to indulge your basest drives.
That’s a solid definition, but we need more specifics if we’re going to learn how to be a good friend.
Be present, Be supportive, Be authentic, Be fun, Be quiet, Be respectful: To have a friend – BE a friend
Good advice. Let’s explore this a bit.
Be Present. To me, this means to be available for your friend in good times and – even more – in bad times. Celebrate their wins and be there for them when they have losses. Be dependable. I believe that if you make a promise, you should keep a promise. For friends, this rule is inviolable. Finally, remember you don’t have to fix their problems, just being there to listen is your job.
Be Supportive. When your friend has a crisis, you can best support them by listening, empathizing and not judging them. It’s tough to make a sound decision if you are constantly thinking about the problem. You need some time to reflect. So, take them to a movie, go on a hike or go shopping to distract them from their problem for a while.
Be Authentic. Poet Mark Nepo says, “The flower doesn’t dream of the bee. It blossoms and the bee comes.” In other words, when we show our true selves, we attract other authentic people who may become our friends. As we tend to our own self-improvement, we become the nectar. When you are around friends, let them see your peculiar ways, your eccentricities, your failings and foibles as well as your strengths. When you do this, true friends will be revealed. The best friends like you warts and all.
Be Fun. Be willing to get out and do things that take you and your friends out of your comfort zones. I have a friend who got me started running when I was 56. I was never a runner, but now I run more than 45 miles per month. It’s something he and I do together every Saturday morning. The running for health turned into running competitively. Traveling to races around our state turned into races coupled with visits to barbeque restaurants and wineries near the race locations. You never know where things will lead or what you will find a fun and enriching part of your life until you try it.
Be Quiet. Friends don’t have to talk to enjoy each other’s company. Two of my very good friends in the neighborhood come to my deck in the evenings at least once per week. I listen – usually without comment – if they have something they need to vent about. Sometimes we will sit, listen to music and not say a word for half an hour. Just the other night we agreed that getting together on the deck was one of the best events in our lives each week.
Be Respectful. Your friends are in your life not because you are related or married or work together. They are there by choice. You may not always agree on things, but you can be respectful of their differences. Don’t condemn their choices if you don’t agree with them. Got issues where you really disagree? Just agree to disagree on these subjects.
So, be a good friend first, and you are sure to have good friends.
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