As a species, how we behave in most relationships has drastically changed over time. Marriage went from filling our utilitarian needs to filling (or at least attempting to fill) our emotional needs. The roles of men and women have changed both at home and at work. The traditional expectations of the duties of a parent, spouse, or boss is evolving as well.
But out of all our relationships, there is one that has remained constant: friendship.
Families come with baggage. Romantic relationships come with challenges. But friendships, more often than not, feel easy and not fraught with fear or uncertainty. We don’t overanalyze our behavior with our friends like we do our lovers or our parents.
And after basic needs like food, shelter, and oxygen are met, what we humans crave most is connection. We want to be seen. And, whenever possible, have our quirks be both appreciated and understood.
A fascinating study on this topic was done around the price paparazzi can fetch for photos of our favorite celebrities dolled up at award shows versus candid photos of them drinking a latte or picking up their kids from school. In fact, the demand for the latter is six times higher than the former. Why? We want to believe our favorite celebrity is like us. Not because we want to “take them down a notch” but because we want to feel more connected to the real person. This is because we want others to see (and like) who we really are, too.
Our parents weren’t wrong when they warned us that we are the friends we keep. Fortunately, this can be a wonderful thing.
Great thinkers, even the most curmudgeonly among them, have mostly been unanimous in their beliefs that friendships are necessary for happiness. Here’s a brief look at what eight masterminds have said about friendship throughout history.
Aristotle on seeing our reflection in others:
A friend holds a mirror up to us.
Aristotle was a forefather in recognizing the correlation between self and those we consider friends. We are each better for having witnessed our own reflection in the other.
Epicurus on choosing people over fortune:
Of all the things that wisdom provides to help one live one’s entire life in happiness, the greatest by far is the possession of friendship.
In 306 BC, Epicurus founded The Garden in Athens, an ancient version of the 90's television show Friends. The focus at The Garden was on community and enjoying the simple but still good life. Friendship is better than fortune, because what we really want from wealth is to be liked by others. Friends offer that for free.
Montaigne on self-acceptance:
Luy seul jouyssoit de ma vraye image.
Translated to "He alone had the privilege of my true portrait", Montaigne was describing his close friendship with Etienne de La Boetie, whom he considered his soulmate and the only person to truly understood and accept him. Tragically, La Boetie died four years after they met, but their friendship became the impetus for Montaigne’s groundbreaking collection of personal essays. Friendship taught Montaigne how to be Montaigne.
Proust on the acceptance of others:
I do my intellectual work within myself, and once with other people, it’s more or less irrelevant to me that they’re intelligent, as long as they’re kind, sincere, etc.
Proust forever transformed the way we value the art of conversation. He emphasized curiosity over judgement when interacting with others despite having excruciatingly high standards for himself. For this reason he was well liked by most, and his famous Proust Questionnaire has became staple in our daily dialogues with others as it emphasizes familiarity over formality.
Henry Miller on quality versus popularity:
How distressing it is to hear young painters talking about dealers, shows, newspaper reviews, rich patrons, and so on. All that comes with time — or will never come. But first one must make friends, create them through one’s work. What sustains the artist is the look of love in the eyes of the beholder. Not money, not the right connections, not exhibitions, not flattering reviews.
In an era in which we’re obsessed with numbers and online likes, Miller reminds us to focus on the people whose opinions truly matter. Our friends are our greatest fans and we should turn to them for advice and support instead of seeking acceptance from the unknown masses.
C.S. Lewis on the beauty of life:
I have no duty to be anyone’s friend and no man in the world has a duty to be mine. No claims, no shadow of necessity. Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself … It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which gave value to survival.
Friendship isn’t necessary for existence, but it is necessary for mindful living. Friendship need not be viewed as something desperate to cling to, but to appreciate, nourish, and enjoy.
Ralph Waldo Emerson on comfort:
I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know.
When the going gets the tough, the tough turns to friends. In a world of uncertainty, our friends can be our rock, our anchor, and greatest source of strength.
Friends don’t just show us who we are now, but shed light on our potential selves. #friendship via @HOLSTEETweet It!
Anaïs Nin on being taught by others:
Each friend represents a world in us, a world possibly not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born.
True friends awaken a side of ourselves we didn’t even know existed. They don’t just show us who we are now, but shed light on our potential selves. In this way, friends are like a magnet drawing our hearts closer to the surface, and helping us remember what it feels like to be alive.
As we celebrate a month of all things love, let's also remember those who help us love ourselves: our friends.
Want to make more mindful connections? Come to our workshop on How To Build & Maintain Meaningful Relationships on February 10th!
Monica McCarthy brings people and ideas together as the Experience Impresario of Holstee. A veteran Broadway and television actress, she is passionate about the arts, philosophy, and travel, which she muses about here. Her favorite splurge is membership passes to NYC museums.
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