One of the most critical elements of a meaningful life is the quality of your friendships. Today I'm going to give you a simple and high-level way to help you reflect on how great your friendships are.
Our society is facing soaring rates of loneliness and anxiety, and people lack deep friendships and close communities.
Yet we are social creatures, and our brains are wired for connection with others. We all want to know if we are loved and if we belong. Meaningful relationships are among our most essential needs.
Deep friendship is a cure for loneliness and anxiety. Quality friendships can decrease your fear and prevent you from becoming overwhelmed. Friendships can help you find your next job. Your network of friendships enables you to be generous, solve complex problems, and borrow things instead of buying them. Safe friendships can help us heal from trauma, recover from addictions, survive unthinkable loss, and keep fighting the good fight when there is nothing else to do but move forward. It's difficult to overestimate the power of friendships.
Do you agree with this idea? Do you believe in the importance of deep friendship? Or do you think that you need to go through this life alone, that other people will just let you down? Even if people let you down, is the risk of improving friendships worth the reward?
If you want to improve your depth and breadth of friendships, it's helpful to take time to reflect intentionally on your friendships, their quality, and how to improve them.
So to properly assess your friendships, let's first look at different kinds of friendships.
We can identify eight different types of friendships.
1. Friends you adventure with. These are the friends you work out with, play with, or have a shared hobby together. Perhaps these are friends you love to travel with. They may not be deep friendships, but you connect over shared interests, play, and have fun together.
2. Friendly neighbors. Having good neighbors is meaningful and practical. It starts with being a good neighbor, looking out for them, and finding ways to encourage and help them. Neighbors who look out for you and your family is often sadly missing in today's world of busyness and individualism.
3. Friends who mentor you. Whether it be a family member, a manager from work, or a wise friend from your church, mentors are invaluable. They give us perspective and can cut through our blind spots. A well-timed sentence or single question from a wise mentor can change the course of our entire life.
4. Friends you mentor. You are missing out if you don't have people you are mentoring. Pouring into others' lives is one of the most rewarding things you can do. Whether you are a coach, a 12-step sponsor, volunteering at a non-profit with kids, or spending time helping others at work when you mentor, you get back so much more than you give. You keep learning and can be challenged by their excitement and commitment, be reminded of where you used to be, and see clearly where you still struggle. There is so much to learn from when you mentor others.
5. Friends you share a deep purpose with. Purposeful friends, for short, are friends you are 'on mission' with. Perhaps there is a non-profit you're deeply committed to, and you connect with others who share that purpose. Perhaps there is an injustice you are fighting with others. Maybe you are engaged in a local faith community and share friendships with others living out their faith.
6. Friends you are committed to for life. These are intensely loyal friends. Perhaps a friendship you've had since childhood, a college roommate, or a like-minded friend you meet as an adult. The person you have years or decades of history with. These friendships are forged together through shared experiences and common values.
7. Your spouse or partner. Don't forget your friendship with your significant other! Find ways to play together, invest in quality time with one another, and learn to ask thoughtful questions and listen deeply. This applies to all friendships but, most of all, to your partner.
8. Friends of friends. This is perhaps an overlooked kind of friendship. But friends of friends are a powerful part of your extended network. Think about your friends and who you know that your friends might want to know or how you can help them by making an introduction.
Now rate your friendships on what I call a 'Circle of Friendships':
This simple exercise will help you reflect on and assess the different friendships in your life at a high level.
1. Draw a circle
2. Slice it up into the different friendship types by drawing four straight lines, and label each of the eight sections.
3. Rate your friendship level on a scale of 0 to 10. 10 means you are fully satisfied with that friendship category. 0 means it's completely missing in your life or very miserable.
Take some time to do this exercise. It only takes a few minutes but can lead to helpful insights.
4. Identify the areas for your most significant growth. What stands out to you?
Focus on one or two of the categories. Choose either the lowest scoring categories or the category that, if it increases, will make the most meaningful impact in your life.
What one thing could you do that would improve this category of friendship? Better yet, identify a specific practice, something you could repeatedly do over time that could build momentum and compound growth in your friendships over time.
"Many will say they are loyal friends, but who can find one who is truly reliable?"
"Sometimes [a friend] wonders what he is doing there among his betters. He is lucky beyond desert to be in such company. Especially when the whole group is together, each bringing out all that is best, wisest, or funniest in all the others."
C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves
To what degree are your friends helping you become a better person?
What can you do today to be a better friend?
Feel free to share your results and reflections with me. I'd love to know how you are seeking to improve your friendships!