(This is part six in a series about The Happiness Project, by Gretchen Rubin. To start at the beginning, click here. )
One thing I can say with absolute certainty is that I am a good friend. I’ve been told by more than a few people that one of my strengths is maintaining friendships, and I don’t disagree. Sure, I have to send the occasional belated (gasp!) birthday card, and lately I’ve let too much time pass between phone calls, but I DO make conscious efforts to invest in my relationships.
According to Gretchen’s research, having strong social bonds is perhaps the biggest thing that contributes to one’s happiness. Makes sense, right? No man is an island and it takes a village to raise a kid–we need each other, and that’s a good thing. In order to improve her happiness quotient in the area of friendships, Gretchen chose to both strengthen current relationships and make new friends, as well.
I am so blessed to have quite literally a plethora of friends. I have old friends, best friends, running friends, neighborhood friends, friends who are older and friends who are younger. I’ve known my closest friend for nine years, and my college girlfriends and I go back SEVENTEEN years. I even have a friend from seventh grade with whom I’ve essentially lost touch, save the occasional Facebook comment, but I’m willing to bet if we sat down for coffee today, it wouldn’t take but a moment to feel the warmth of our previous closeness (I’m lookin’ at you, Megan Brock!). There is something so sweet about the relationship you have with someone who has seen you ‘grow up.’ They knew the previous ‘you,’ as well as the current ‘you,’ and love you just the same.
Keep in mind, dear reader, that I grew up moving over and over as a Navy brat. I was constantly leaving friends and having to make new ones. My parents even moved between my high school graduation and the start of college, effectively cutting me off from all of my current friends. My bestie, who I met when Andrew and I lived in Ohio after college, and I play a strong voicemail game on a daily basis, and try to see each other a few times a year (and now that we’ve found Chagrin Falls, it’s even easier to see each other).
I guess what I’m trying to say is that I have MADE AN EFFORT to keep the flame of these friendship fires burning. I send cards and emails. I text and call. I make every attempt to visit my Penn State girlfriends anytime I drive south. Maintaining close friendships is an investment, and the dividends are priceless.
Gretchen decided to improve her birthday-remembering game, as she struggles with that. She knew she wouldn’t send a card or call, and decided not to hold herself to an impossible standard, so emails it was. One of her ‘Secrets of Adulthood’ is “Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good.” I love this, and I keep mentioning it to Andrew as we complete house projects. While I love that everything he does comes out PERFECTLY, I don’t love that it takes four times as long and causes much too much strife. While some things do benefit from meticulousness, settling for ‘good enough’ on other things can save a lot of heartache.
Back to friendship.
I, unlike Gretchen, don’t tend to struggle with remembering birthdays, although my cards and gifts may not always arrive on time these days. I’ve always been good at sending snail mail, and I don’t intend to ever stop. I love getting mail and my love language is gifts, and I simply assume others enjoy those things as well.
She also tried to ‘be generous,’ although not with money. She ‘helped people think big,’ which led to some friends writing a book (!!!) after her encouragement to do so; she ‘brought people together’ in the form of a Supreme Court Clerks reunion, set-up friends on a blind date and organized a BBQ taste-off. She ‘contributed her in way’ by helping a friend declutter her closet (man, did I miss my calling as a professional organizer, or what?); and ‘cut people slack,’ which is perhaps the most generous of all things we can do for each other. Gretchen cited Flannery O’Connor’s adage of “finding explanations in charity,” which is akin to giving someone ‘the benefit of the doubt.’ The guy who cut you off on the highway? Perhaps his wife was in labor next to him. The grouch in front of you at the check-out line? Maybe they just got laid off, or got bad news from their doctor. It’s about putting yourself in their shoes and giving the grace you’d like to be given.
Other methods Gretchen used to improve her friendships included: showing up (Did you know that simply being exposed to something over and over again, like a person or food or music, makes you like it more? It’s called the “mere exposure effect.” ), don’t gossip (that goes without saying, right?), and making three new friends.
While I’m blessed with many friends already, what’s a few more?! I’m not working outside the home right now, and perhaps the biggest impact it’s had on me is that I’ve been better able to invest time into my relationships (and our backyard). I’m more apt to stop what I’m doing and talk on the phone instead of multitasking. I’m able to meet for coffee or lunch. I can run in the morning during the week with friends. I’m about to start mentoring the teenage daughter of a friend. I joined the women’s Bible study at church (new friends!) and am going to start doing weekly Bible study ‘homework’ with a current friend (strengthening relationships!). I’ve started spending more time in prayer FOR my friends.
All this reminds me that I’m overdue on a ‘catch-up’ email to some friends…