Happy New Year, all!
In line with the theme of resolutions and the making of good choices to improve ones life, an oft ignored or minimized aspect of our lives which deserves far more careful consideration than we tend to give it. Its one that, on being more mindful and thoughtful with regard to this part of our lives, can improve the satisfaction and joy of our life in major, significant ways. You will absolutely notice the difference in your own life once you begin applying it.
What exactly am I referring to?
The mindful, careful, thoughtful choosing of those with whom you surround yourself and spend time.
First off, this applies to basically everyone in our life. Friends, romantic partners, and yes, even family. Because while you cannot choose to whom you are born or related, you absolutely can choose (though not necessarily without pain and loss) which family members you allow in your life and heart. Just because someone is your blood, even your sibling or parent, does not mean they are a healthy or good presence for you. For many people, they are. And for many, sadly, these people are not.
You will need to choose, not what is easiest but what is healthiest and truly best for you. All of this is of course, relative to the person, relationship, and situation.
With all of that said, how does one do that? Be mindful and choosy when picking who they hang out with. And, why is this so important to ones happiness and even, ones health?
First off, why is this such a crucial life thing? Choosing carefully with whom you surround yourself.
Because it determines your health, your habits, your happiness and sense of connectedness, and your overall life satisfaction and joy. We become like the people with whom we spend the most time. Studies have shown this to be true, time and time again.
If you hang out with people who do drugs, smoke, or drink a lot, you are several times more likely to partake in those activities yourself. Even if those things had not interested you much prior. If you spend time with people who are into healthy eating and exercise, you are way more likely to find yourself engaging in those activities and mindsets.
If you hang in the company of people who are often negative, bitter, gossipy, mean, and/or unhappy, you are far more likely to feel less happy, more cynical, and crappy yourself. Yes, moods rub off and are, to a degree, contagious. Whereas, if you surround yourself with people who are joyful, contented, upbeat, grateful, and kind, you are more likely, by leaps and bounds, to both feel these same emotions and adapt a similar demeanor.
If you join company with those who are movers and shakers, inspired and hard working, creative and adventurous, you have way higher likelihood of adapting these behaviors and temperaments. Whereas if you spend time with people who are largely lazy, or dont do much in their lives, who arent especially open thinking or adventurous, you are more likely to slide into similar ways of thinking and being.
Emotionally and mentally healthy people tend to hang out with those like them. And by the same token, emotionally and mentally unhealthy people tend to gravitate toward and bond with those who are similar. Because people who are truly healthy are not drawn towards those who are unhealthy. They sense it, and keep their distance.
We often significantly under-estimate just how much of an influence and impact the company we keep has on our psyches, habits, and life satisfaction.
One red flag to look out for, if you have a relationship with someone who tends to talk a lot about themselves, their issues, their dramas, their accomplishments, their interests, their opinions, their life happenings, and show little to no genuine, true depth of interest or focus on yours? This friendship is likely to leave you feeling left wanting. Not connected or satisfied, even lonely. While everyone does this on occasion, talk more than the other person (and sometimes, that is totally ok), it should generally feel balanced. You should feel as though, overall, there is a mutual sense of sharing, interest, talking, and listening.
Though most crucial to differentiate: this isn't actually a friendship in the first place- if the relationship is largely all about the other person. Then, its more of a using situation. One person using the other as a dumping ground and as a means to feel a semblance of being heard, while not showing interest or curiosity in, nor hearing the other. Not good.
So, a "friend" is not necessarily a friend.
Someone is not actually better than nothing.
Quantity does not matter in the least. Quality is where the tipping point lies.
We have both, such limited free time in our often over-scheduled and ever busy lives, as well as limited time here on earth in which to revel in life, love, and what truly lights us up inside. We dont have time to waste on relationships that are mediocre, mostly stressful, or even crappy and downright unhealthy.
You can love someone and still have limits, even strong ones. You can care for someone deeply and simultaneously recognize that they arent great for you to spend time around (and adjust your boundaries accordingly). You can also generally like someone as a person just fine (say, a colleague or acquaintance), while recognizing that they are not someone with whom you would wish to invest significant time otherwise. That doesn't make you a bad person, nor them. You can also have a healthy, joyous, and satisfying relationship with someone for a time, even a long time, and then something changes and it is no longer a great, healthy fit for you. This is ok, and even normal too.
The trick is remaining mindful. Relationships are ever shifting, growing, and changing. Its important to both: choose wisely in the first place, as well as, to continually check in and re-evaluate.
So, now we know why choosing the people in our lives is so important.
Now, how to choose carefully?
First, do not just jump into a friendship with someone full fledged, with both feet right off the bat, without getting to know someone first. Observe them prior to making this decision, in varying situations if possible. Listen to the words they say. Watch how they act. What do their values seem to be. Are they a great listener? Are they warm and kind? Do they have strong morals? Are they as interested in you, as you are them? (Hint: their actions, not their words, will show this). Are they respectful?
Spend time with someone a handful of times, not with the mindset of already "we are already friends. Cool. Done." But instead, with the mindset of getting to know and considering this person. Are they someone in whom you want to invest, and whom you wish to invite into your life further?
Next, consider the follow questions about them as you get to know this person:
1. Does this person show genuine, significant interest in me as a person, my life, feelings, experiences, etc? Do they ask, and actually listen to the responses? Are they curious about you, both, asking about updates since they saw you last, as well as continuing to learn more about you as the relationship goes along? This curiosity should be obvious, and lasting.
If not, if the person is largely interested instead in talking about themselves, its likely they may be lonely and are just looking for any person onto whom they can latch (so its not necessarily a real interest in you- in this case. They will take anyone), they might be incredibly self centered, or just not that genuinely interested in you as a person. None of these make for someone who is emotionally available enough to be a real friend.
Because a friendship, or any relationship (romantic, familial) are all investments, and not small ones. If someone does not show equal interest and effort towards you that you feel and have for them? Forget it. Not a worthwhile investment for you. Its one that will cost a lot and drain you, without offering much fulfillment in return.
2. Is this person, for the most part, fun to be around? A joyous presence? Uplifting and emotionally healthy?
Of course, no one is 100% happy and fun all the time. On occasions, friendships will entail lending a supportive and loving ear. Listening when it might be somewhat tiring and a bit of a downer. Involving some semblance of sacrifice or stretching oneself. Sometimes, friendship has periods of challenge and necessary support. However, a friendship should be, for the most part (80-85% of it), a happy and fun thing.
If you find that a friendship has become resoundingly negative, it might be time to either have a heart to heart with your friend, and if things dont get better, potentially reconsider. Because, while part of being a good friend means being supportive, it does not mean allowing them to drag your down frequently, or dump on you consistently and most of the time. That results in an emotionally unhealthy, heavy, majorly lopsided friendship.
3. Do they inspire and bring out the best in you?
Do you tend to feel, in this persons company, like your most awesome self? Inspired? Happy? Prompted towards trying your best? Encouraged? Challenged in positive ways? These are all good things.
Or, does someone tend to make you feel uninspired, lazy, like a crappier version of yourself, bored, or even brought down? Do they complain a lot? Do they bring out unhealthy or bad behaviors and modes of thinking within you? Not good.
4. Are they reliable? Trustworthy? Do they keep their word?
Real friends, those worth investing in, are willing to invest in you too. Thus, they are reliable. Barring very rare occasions, they keep dates you have made. You know that if you tell them something personal, they will hold the information with care and respect, as well as without judgement. You can count on this person.
5. Do they prioritize spending time with you? Commit to and remember the date? Is it clear that spending time with, as well as listening to and getting to know you, is important to them?
A genuine friend is someone who makes it obvious that spending time with you is important and a joy in their life. They are willing to commit to a date and time. They stay in touch with you. Reciprocate interest, not with words but with action. They make the time to hang out with you and enjoy your company routinely.
6. Are they lovingly honest?
When you truly care for someone, you will tell them the truth, even if it might be difficult. In reference to the bestselling book "The Road Less Traveled" by Scott Peck, when you care deeply for/love someone and witness them hurting either themselves or others with their actions or choices, you say something. Essentially being willing to "risk the relationship" if you will, to tell them where you see their hurtful choices happening. Even if it pisses off or hurts them.
When you genuinely care about someone, you cannot and do not stand by silently and say nothing. If you choose to say nothing? They isn't care or love, its taking the easier, less caring, more cowardly route.
However, important note on honesty, some people think honesty means uncensored, harsh, strident, even cruel. No. This isn't love either. Its nastiness and cruelty, even a form of hatred. You can be honest while still being loving and kind. While still choosing your words mindfully.
7. Do they accept, love, and celebrate you for who you are?
Real friends who actually love you, they do not try to change you. They do not criticize or put you down. They do not judge or condemn you. They are open hearted, supportive, and celebrate you for the person you are. Its obvious, via both action and word, that this person likes and even loves you for the person you are. That they see both your strength and awesome traits, as well as your challenges and crappier ones, and they love you anyway.
To conclude with two quotes I love and feel strongly depict genuine, emotionally close, healthy and positive, truly great friendships (which are rarer than you think- but again, this is largely in your control. Dont just grab anyone who seems cool off the bat. Get to know them first slowly, observe and consider their character as you get to know them, and choose wisely):