In our attempts to slow the spread of coronavirus we have inadvertently created a parallel pandemic of social isolation, loneliness and depression. In these trying times it is more important than ever to reach out to our friends and to remember the healing powers of friendship. Modern research has repeatedly shown that deep friendships can positively impact almost every facet of our lives including health, life expectancy, happiness, suicide risk and even career success. Of course not all friendships are created equal and quality tends to matter much more than quantity.
The benefits of friendship did not require the proof of modern science, they were already well known in the ancient world. Over 2300 years ago Aristotle wrote that “Friendship is not only necessary for us, but noble.” Aristotle felt so strongly about the necessity of friendship for a flourishing life that he devoted almost twenty percent of his famous book “The Nicomachean Ethics” to the topic.
Aristotle identified three types of friendship that are important in our lives: friendships of pleasure; friendships of utility; and friendships of excellence. A friendship of pleasure is based upon a shared hobby, sport or activity. These relationships can provide much joy, but will often fade quickly when the excitement of the shared pleasure ends. A friendship of utility is based upon mutual benefit or cooperation towards a shared goal. These relationships are important for us to work well together – think of your allies at the office or the diligent coworkers that you like to share tasks with. You may not have a lot of hobbies in common or spend much time together out of work, but these relationships can be crucial to our careers, happiness and long term success. Friendships of excellence are much more rare, much deeper and usually much more long lasting. These are the people who have your back through good and bad times; who make you a better person; who share bonds of mutual respect and with whom you can let down your guard. You may also share hobbies or work together, but friendships of excellence persist without these external supports. We need all three types of friendships to thrive as we play the different roles required in our lives.
Over the past 4000 years many other wise people have provided good advice about finding, maintaining and enjoying true friendship:
- Ptah Hotep –“Share what you have with your friends; you have it with the grace of God.”
- Buddha –“If you find a companion who is wise and good, you should travel together in enjoyment overcoming all dangers.”
- Seneca –“After a friendship is formed you must trust, but before you must judge.”
- Jesus –“Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friend.”
- Queen Elizabeth I –“Prosperity provideth but adversity proveth friends.”
- Benjamin Franklin –“A true friend is the best possession.”
- George Washington–“Be courteous to all but intimate with few, and let those few be well tried before you give them your confidence.”
- Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe–“Tell me who you associate with and I will tell you who you are.”
In closing, always remember Aristotle’s observation that “The mere presence of friends is sweet in times of good or bad fortune; for even our pain is lightened when our friends share it with us.” So stay connected this winter, arrange a call, set up a zoom conference or meet for a walk outdoors. Get vaccinated in 2021; then resolve to deepen your existing relationships and find new friendships of excellence to share the rest of life’s journey.