By Licensed Psychologist Andrew Bland
In today’s tech-saturated world, it is easy to confuse the number of “likes” and followers on social media for friendship, community, and a sense of belonging — or a lack thereof in your life.
In fact, researchers have noted that among adolescents, the more an individual’s postings are endorsed by others, the more likely they are to reciprocally become “liked” on first glance by strangers, and vice-versa.
It’s true that a degree of peer conformity is normative during that phase of life. On the other hand, though, the confusion of “safety in numbers” for some can extend well into adulthood — and can have a limiting effect on the perceptions embraced by the next generation.
This raises an important question: What really makes a good friend?
Is it the number of companions that person has, with emphasis on “having”? Surely there must be more to being a friend and to being with a friend.
And indeed, the power of friendship does seem to go far beyond the numbers. In fact, researchers also have found that all it takes is a supportive relationship with one close friend during adolescence to promote resilience, meaning and strength, despite adversity, that enables an individual to enter successfully into adulthood.
Looking back on my experience — and from what I have heard from numerous others’ reflections — a good friend is someone with whom we share a deep intimate connection.
This connection requires a reasonable degree of effort to maintain but very little effort to engage. This means we often intuitively recognize certain people as “friends” when we encounter them for the first time.
The People Who Stick Around
And thereafter, whereas plenty of acquaintances enter and exit as we navigate the phases and transitions of our lives, good friends are the ones who seem to stick around.
They are those kindred spirits with whom we may have little contact for weeks, months, or even years. But when we are back in the same room, it seems as if no time passed at all. There is no need to catch up, reminisce or engage in superficialities.
Conversations just pick right back up where they left off. And they entail a level of depth and connection that can be measured only by degree of felt sense.
In some friendships, there is also a special language shared or a particular living memory or narrative that continues to unfold and evolve as the individuals change and grow.
Most days this language or those memories are not at the forefront of one’s awareness. But in the moments when an individual encounters those good friends, they are enough to strike a chord that resounds until the next time they’re together.
Mindfulness and Friendship
Mindful living entails appreciating life as a series of moments.
When the process goes well for us, we can reasonably anticipate that we’ll enjoy plenty of meaningful relationships with acquaintances, some of whom we may forge an intense connection with for a relatively brief period of time.
But in contrast, good friends are those with whom we can pause and say, “Just a moment with them is enough to inspire and keep me going through all those moments without them.”
Or, as John Lennon stated in more categorically:
“Though I know I’ll never lose affection
For people and things that went before
I know I’ll often stop and think about them
In my life, I love you more.”