November 4, 2010 9 Comments
In life there are some things that you should have in suitably generous servings at every opportunity that reasonably presents itself.
These are friends, laughter, sex and vegetables. Everything else in life you should have in moderation. (Note that combining the last three simultaneously may not work for everyone).
I believe that having great friends is a critical success factor in a healthy life.
I am not talking about people who can help you succeed in your career or in your business, or business contacts and acquaintances a la Linkedin, but people that are a serious part of your life. Friends who know enough about you so that there is no need to explain or justify what you do, who know you well and still want to be your friend anyway, who add a richness to your life just by their existence in it, and who see you the same way. The type of friends who can’t be bought, as Steve Wright (US Comedian) points out “If Barbie is so popular, why do you have to buy her friends?”
Robin Dunbar (British anthropologist and evolutionary biologist) came up with the number of 150 as the maximum number of people with whom we can have a meaningful relationship (Dunbar’s number).
Facebook seems to disagree as they have set their limit at 5000 friends. At 5000 your wall would need to be about the size of the Great Wall of China, and you would need to dedicate your entire life to just keeping up with the newsfeeds, and yet petitions abound to have this number raised to at least 15,000. MySpace already appears to have no limit at all. I wonder whether for many people these “pseudo-friends” have replaced real friends as, apart from keeping your life posted on the chosen site, there is not a lot of effort that has to be put into each individual friendship.
Social network junkies should however heed the warning of George Carlin (1937-2008, stand up comedian and 5-time Grammy award winner) who said “One good reason to only maintain a small circle of friends is that three out of four murders are committed by people who know the victim.”
I don’t actually believe the limit itself is as important as the reality of having meaningful relationships with whatever number of true friends you wish to have. Whatever that number may be for you, the issue is that each one carries with it some major responsibilities. If you want unconditional love you should get a dog, but every other relationship will require work and effort (See “Emptying your bucket” posted 5/8/2010).
Some of my basic rules of friendship:
- Honesty versus criticism (family may survive criticism, friendship rarely)
- Unquestioned loyalty
- Their secrets are your secrets … no exceptions.
- They are your friends because of who they are, not what you would like them to be
- If you love them, tell them (goes for all sexes)
- Periodic contact whatever that means and whatever that particular friendship needs
- Help unconditionally when needed, even if not specifically requested
- Keep your word
- Laugh together often, even at yourselves
The conventional wisdom is that good friendships enhance an individual’s sense of happiness and overall well being. It has also been shown that loneliness and lack of social supports are linked to an increased risk of heart disease, viral infections, cancer and higher mortality rates.
US radio host Bernard Meltzer (1916-1998) used to say “A true friend is someone who thinks that you are a good egg even though he knows that you are slightly cracked”.