A simple guide to better friendships

Promo shot of the cast of "Friends"
Promo shot of the cast of “Friends”

Bad habits we can all break to make better connections

By Taylor Pitt, Contributor

What determines a friend? Shared interests and hobbies, frequent gatherings at the same hangout spots, grand parties that get crazier time after time? Where does personality come into the equation? Or, is there something missing from this, something that can’t be so easily analyzed or measured?

Traditionally, our friends are thought of as the people with whom we interact and spend time with outside of a family, school, or work atmosphere. Occasionally, one might make friends with a co-worker or a fellow student in the classroom, and many people still count high school companions among them. They’re the people we go to movies with, the ones always invited to our parties, and the ones we might buy a pint of beer for at the bar. Finally, your best friends are supposed to be the ones you can count on to help bail you out of a difficult situation, and to always support you in what you do.

However, as more and more criteria is added, I can hazard a guess that suddenly one’s list of good friends starts to shrivel up. Good friends are hard to come by, and building a great friendship seems to take a lot of effort. This doesn’t need to be the case though, as there are a few bad habits we all have which, if combatted, can help us make better, longer lasting, and more loving friendships.

One bad habit is small talk. Now, I don’t mean to insist that everyone is vain, but it seems like the problem is that conversations centre too much on ourselves and our environment, and can therefore lack a personal quality. Human personality goes so much deeper than what we find enjoyable, what we do for work, and how we’re getting along in school. While the occasional update on what one has accomplished at work or what asinine thing the assistant manager did this week may be interesting, and although everyone can learn a lot more when we share what we learned at school, the constant comparison of our lives against those of our friends can very quickly become droll and uninteresting. To better get to know your friends, try raising new subjects of conversation or getting into personal history, life goals, and ridiculous fantasies. Marvel just as much at how your friends are different from you as you would at your similarities, and you’ll find yourself making much deeper connections.

Second, move away from familiar places. Variety is the spice of life, as the old phrase goes. When it comes to just hanging out, variety is what separates time with friends from mundane experiences like work or school. Familiar environments like the antique living room couch at your best friend’s place may be the routine location to hang out, but frequenting it at the rate you do the office or classroom is bound to associate it with what’s mundane eventually. Instead, try finding new and exciting places to just kick back. Replace the usual bar with somewhere you’ve never been before, and your buddy’s couch with a local park or hideaway. Not every excursion out into the city has to end with spending half a paycheque on liquor or food; there’s plenty of cheap or free entertainment out there for small gatherings. Not only that, but you’ll build up your personal arsenal of places you can bring others to on dates!

Be more generous to one another. This very simple notion doesn’t just mean giving your friends more of your stuff, and by no means should anyone let themselves be taken advantage of. Generosity just means keeping less track of favours done for each other and what’s owed. Forgetting the times you spared an extra cigarette for a friend, or not expecting anything in return for the time you spent helping another buddy move. Both seem very minor, but are generous actions. Sparing whatever extra time or resources you have to support your friends in their personal pursuit of life goals or creative projects will set a good example for everyone you spend time with, and encourage others to do the same. In close circles of friends, the obvious effect is that one will find themselves surrounded by other humble, generous, and supportive people.

Finally, and possibly most importantly, is to avoid forming a clique. Treat friends of your good friends as if they were also your good friends. While there are introverts out there, this isn’t just a matter of talking to everyone equally. In party settings or on late night adventures, be sure to keep an eye out for the well-being of everyone in the group, and encourage others to do the same. Build a trusting atmosphere in your social network, and eventually, it will seem more like you’ve built a community.

Meaningful, interpersonal connections between human beings are the foundations of any successful community, and the key to both wisdom and happiness. Therefore, it’s in everyone’s best interest to get to know our friends and neighbourhoods better, to be more generous with our time and what we can share, and to support an atmosphere of trust and inclusivity.