Friendships are some of the most unique and fulfilling formative relationships we enter voluntarily and experience in our lives. Research suggests that friendships play a vital role in our quest to lead a happy, purpose-driven life.
Indeed, having fulfilling friendships can mean better overall health, greater life satisfaction and higher happiness levels. Building and maintaining robust social connections can also keep loneliness at bay, making us less vulnerable to conditions such as stress, depression and anxiety.
However, despite our best efforts, some friendships may fail if we begin to suspect that a friend doesn’t really care about us. Sometimes, we may get caught up with our own lives and forget to check up on our friends. At other times, we may have known some friends for such a long time that we may end up taking them for granted. Or, if you’re anything like me, you may be an introvert who feels awkward about expressing how much your friends mean to you.
In fact, friendships cannot sustain themselves while being overlooked or taken for granted. Indeed, healthy friendships are a result of careful nurturing with consistent, conscious efforts on our behalf. Furthermore, if you find it difficult to make new friends as an adult, then having a sparse buddy count may hamper your quality of life. So, discovering how to be a better friend is really important for our well-being and happiness.
There's a popular saying that goes: “In order to have friends, you must first be one”. If you’re thinking that perhaps you're not always the best buddy and are wondering how to be a better friend, cultivating these nine habits on a regular basis will help you get closer to your goal.
Given the hectic pace of life for most of us nowadays, time is one of the greatest gifts we possess. So, making time for those who matter to us is one of the most fundamental ways to be a better friend. Despite busy schedules, caring friends always make time to catch up with their pals and keep track of new developments in their lives, moods, thoughts, hopes and dreams. It’s OK to want to meet even without a specific agenda sometimes, even if it’s just to spend some time together over a cuppa or a movie.
One-sided friendships are really not healthy, so learn to take an active interest in your friends’ lives. If they have an important event coming up, remind yourself to send them a message wishing them good luck on the day. Bringing thoughtful gifts from your travels, dropping homemade meals when they’re feeling a bit under the weather, and making sure to ask back “how about you?” when they’re checking in on you are some ways to show that you value their friendship and care for their well-being.
How to be a better friend? First, listen more
One of the best ways to be a better friend is to listen more and talk less. We often make the mistake of assuming what our friends need and go on to venture our opinions about their problems or frustrations. When you find your friend struggling with a problem, your first instinct may be to urge them to cool down or indicate that the problem isn’t worth getting upset about. However, this instinct of yours may make your friend feel unsupported or ignored.
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“When people are upset, it matters less what you tell them than what you enable them to tell you,” reveals Mark Goulston, business psychiatrist and the author of Just Listen. Simply ask your friend clearly if they need to vent out or if they need your advice.
Next, listen with complete attention, while withholding your judgment. Offer constructive advice or work together towards a solution only after your friend is done getting their feelings off their chest. While this approach may seem challenging at first, your friends will feel validated and appreciate you for listening mindfully.
Practising empathy is a surefire way to be a better friend, according to research. Our fast-paced lives and the social distancing norms triggered by the coronavirus may leave us increasingly stressed and detached from others around us. However, having empathic friends can help relieve stress to a great extent, according to a study by Sylvia A. Morelli et al at Stanford University.
“One of the best ways to be a better friend is to listen more and talk less. We often make the mistake of assuming what our friends need and go on to venture our opinions about their problems or frustrations.”
While empathy is largely an intuitive trait, it can be inculcated by picking up visual cues as well. Developing the skill to look at the world around us from multiple perspectives and respecting the standpoint of others – even if it’s completely contrary to ours – can actually help us empathize better with others.
While we will always have different types of friends in our lives, we all appreciate having a “tell it like it is” kind of friend. Being genuine and standing up behind your promises and commitments is markedly one of the ways to be a better friend. Indulge in honest, positive communication, albeit tactfully and with kindness.
At the same time, trust that your friends have your back when you need them. If you ever feel the need to correct your friend regarding a decision or action of theirs, try being honest while respecting their boundaries. A good friend will appreciate your honesty and understand the trust you place in the relationship by expressing your reservations.
Backing your friends unconditionally, trusting their capabilities and applauding their achievements is one of best ways to be a better friend. After all, we all love it when people we value and care about the most stand along with us to celebrate our triumphs.
Sometimes, others’ wins may cause us to evaluate where we stand in regard to our goals and accomplishments in life. As tempting as that may seem, shrug away any misgivings and resentment you may feel, avoid falling into the comparison-trap and choose to revel in the accomplishments of your friends.
Celebrate when a friend has success shutterstock/Lucky Business
If we review our relationships, we’ll find that our most-valued friendships always offer plenty of room to accommodate the various challenges in our lives. Showing up in support for your friends when they’re facing a bump in the road is one of the most caring ways to be a better friend.
“Good friends support us, give us space to be ourselves and make mistakes, and they respect boundaries,” suggests therapist Jinnie Cristerna. Being open-minded and remaining unbiased also communicates that you trust your friend’s decision-making abilities enough to not cloud their judgment with your reservations.
One of the greatest ways to be a better friend is to offer your pal genuine encouragement towards achieving their dreams. In addition to backing their goals, don’t be afraid to throw in an occasional challenge, if you feel that it would offer them a push in the right direction.
“Backing your friends unconditionally, trusting their capabilities and applauding their achievements is one of best ways to be a better friend.”
I’m thankful to a dear friend of mine who once challenged me to document my healthy eating journey in a way that was helpful for others who mistook that being healthy required them to eat boring meals.
This is how my food and fitness blog started, as she recognized my ability to inspire others to lead a healthy, happy life without facing burnout. At the same time, I understood that her advice had originated from a place of love and respect and that she genuinely wanted me to succeed.
While admitting a mistake is sometimes incorrectly thought of as admitting weakness, owning up to one’s mistake is actually a sign of strength and emotional maturity. It means that you have the humility and courage to admit that you messed up and value the friendship enough to make amends. Possessing the ability to admit your mistake and apologizing when you’re in the wrong is undoubtedly one of the most effective ways to be a better friend.
Studies show that gratitude can play a key role in keeping us more invested in our relationships, thus strengthening our friendships. Life can be a rough ride sometimes, and we often realize the true power of friendship when we’re going through a difficult patch. Indeed, my struggle with COVID-19 made me realize just how important it was to always have close, reliable friends who always look out for you no matter what and that always have your best interests in mind.
Developing an attitude of gratitude can help us find joy in every gift that life offers us, including our enriching friendships. Never miss an opportunity to tell your friends how grateful you feel about having them in your life, and how they enhance your life in several ways.
It’s true that being a good friend requires some focused work and dedication on our behalf. However, the perks of finding your tribe and maintaining friendships are worth the effort. Keep working on the ways to be a better friend, and you may find significant improvement in your quality of life and happiness levels. •
Main image: shutterstock/HIV in view
Fitness and healthy food blogger, food photographer and stylist, travel-addict and future self journaler. Sonia loves to write and has resolved to dedicate her life to revealing how easy and important it is to be happier, stronger and fitter each day. Follow her daily pursuits at FitFoodieDiary or on Instagram.
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