While family is extremely important to me, I have grown to appreciate my friends for what they are: a chosen family. I truly believe that my friends and the people I surround myself with make up my true wealth and define my happiness in a great part. Visiting my family and friends in Austria and Germany reminded me of the importance of cultivating my relationships and being thankful for all the wonderful people (new and old) who keep me in their hearts even when an ocean lies between us. I thank you for being there for me through laughs and tears, through parties and dark holes. Thank you for taking time out of your busy lives to share good moments! You are truly loved.
The issue of friendship and its advantages but also the pain that can resolve from bad or uncultivated friendships has been something I have been reflecting on lately and I have been doing quite some reading on this matter. I have come to realize quite some things and it has been an inner process of growth. I would like to share some of my insights with you.
“Show me your friends and I will tell you who you are.” As this Greek saying states, our friends form us. We are a product of the people we surround ourselves with. As much as our families shape who we are, friends are responsible for a big portion of who we have become and who we will be. The author Carlin Flora discussed this in her book “Friendfluence” (2013). “Friendfluence is the powerful and often unappreciated role that friends (…) play in determining our sense of self and the direction of our lives” (Flora, p. 6).
While parents are our guides, our childhood friends help teach us important life skills, socialize us so to say. Our teen friends help shape our later romantic bonds and “are a training ground for the later long-term bonds that will evolve through adulthood.”(S. Kraus Whitbourne in Fulfillment at any Age in Psychology Today March 2013)
Entering adulthood, friends continue to form your vital life skills. You probably know that enlightening feeling after a good conversation with a close friend, when you realize that the conversation has just brought you closer to understanding yourself. As Flora points out: “friends are better at describing our behavioral traits than we are” (Flora, p. 132). Because friends know us so well, they are able to see things that we can’t, and aren’t afraid to share their dose of reality with you. Such a reality check might sometimes be hurtful at first, but accepted, such insights will help us grow! Don’t be hurt and fast with cutting off dear friends because they told you something you did not want to hear – reflect on yourself and be thankful for having honest friends. Such friends will help sharpen your mind, help you know yourself better, even inspire you to reach your goals and might even help you meet romantic partners. Thank you Laura! 🙂
Close friends will help you through thick and thin, and yes it sounds kind of old, but when it comes to friends, quality is more important than quantity. I am not saying that you should not meet new people – absolutely! Be open and communicative – but put your main effort into your close friends. You do not need hundreds of so-so-friends to get you through life!
Because of their influence upon us, friends can also make us miserable – and I have had my fair share of that as well! “The people who know you the best are also the ones who have the most power to betray you” (S. Kraus Whitbourne) and that can hit you like a rocket through the heart. The pain can be excruciating and healing will take its time. You might second doubt yourself, asking yourself what you did wrong, how you could have misunderstood or simply how you could have been so wrong about that person in the first place. But don’t be afraid to say no to friends who disappoint, betray, or stress you. Sometimes you may have to prune your friendship tree as S. Kraus Whitbourne puts it. I am not saying you should be opportunistic – the closest friends like each other for who they are in themselves, not for what they deliver. But if the balance between making you feel good versus making you feel bad is out of wack, it is time to move on. Friends should help you grow. Support you. Cheer you on. If they stifle you and put you down – they are not a true friend. As Oscar Wild put it “anybody can sympathise with the sufferings of a friend, but it requires a very fine nature to sympathise with a friend’s succes” And those are the people you want to have around you. As for all paths to happiness, it is good to focus on what makes us feel good, not what brings us sorrow and makes us feel bad about ourselves!
We all get caught up in a rut once and a while. And we all sometimes have that feeling of being all alone and unloved. This feeling is deeply human and we most of us have experienced it at some point or another in our lives. In such times, it is important to remind ourselves that we all feel that way sometimes, but that no matter how lonely life may seem, there are always people out there that love us – just the way we are! By focusing on the relationships we are gifted with, we are able to “lift some of the burden from our apparently unhappy, isolated selves” as the British writer Mark Vernon states in his book The Philosophy of Friendship. In moments of despair we tend to look inward and forget about our blessings. Friends are a blessing, and need to be cultivated. The philosopher Aristotle said, “In poverty and other misfortunes of life, true friends are a sure refuge. They keep the young out of mischief; they comfort and aid the old in their weakness, and they incite those in the prime of life to noble deeds.” Friendships are vital for wellbeing, but they take time to develop. Like in all relationships, love requires time. Paradoxically being a good friend also includes asking them for help when you need it. “Giving someone the gift of being influential can be one of the greatest joys you pass on to your friends.” (S. Kraus Whitbourne)
So go out there, cherish your friends, meet new people, widen your perspective and cultivate your friends. “Being a friend is a great honor and responsibility, so treat your friends carefully” (Flora, p. 235) But don’t be afraid to say goodbye to people that keep you from growing. It will set you on your path towards happiness! Trust me.
Wow – that was a long post. Hope you enjoyed it nevertheless.
Have a great week loved-ones! And as usual, don’t forget – life is a journey! Choose your companions carefully.