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On Friendship

“Numerous studies have shown that one of the great markers for happiness among people at midlife and beyond is people who can rattle off the names of a few authentic, close friends.” — Arthur C. Brooks, From Strength to Strength

I spoke with a man I barely knew for almost an hour as he wept into his phone, talking about the betrayal he felt when he discovered one of his closest friends had been consistently lying to him. I felt the same way about this person, but the difference was I’d never considered him a friend at all, but a brother. We choose our friends, family is determined by fate. Neither of us would ever truly trust this character as we had before, and I felt he had the worst of the bargain. He’d lost one if his best friends. But he may have gained another in the grieving process.

I’m lucky to count a few people as good friends and two as best friends. This doesn’t happen in a vacuum—we must be great friends to earn them in our lives. Life cannot be all take and no give. A spirit of generosity is returned in spades by like-minded people, and not at all by some. The trick is to navigate the latter while we hold dear the former. A lifetime of happiness begins with having the right people in our lives.

This goes beyond our spouses. A strong marriage built on mutual trust and respect is an important part of a rewarding life, but it isn’t always in the cards for some people. The trend seems to be away from marriage for younger people, and I see a lot of amazing older people who never quite find the perfect partner. The essential element for happiness and fulfillment is a small and intimate network of deep friendships.

Marriage to the right person was the best decision I’ve ever made in my lifetime, but a close second was nurturing the right people for me as friends. People who challenge me, tolerate my odd tendencies and offer sage advice when necessary. We’ve seen each other through divorces and death, parenthood and career changes. Through it all we’ve gained a cadence of trust and familiarity that we know will be there for the next big thing life throws our way.

I tell my children that there are two kinds of friends: friends of convenience and friends who will be there for you until the end. As we move through stages in our lives this becomes apparent, busy as we all are in this crazy world. Those few essential friendships are the foundation for a happier and more vibrant life. Deep friendships are the gift of presence and commitment, mutually exchanged for a lifetime.

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