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Why Friendship Should be a Choice

The Friendship Project

You have lots of friends. You know that some of them are "good guys" and others are…well, not so much. And, you  realize that some of these friends can influence you in bad ways, while others inspire you to do more and be better through the examples they set each day.

You know all of this…so why take the time to read an article about the development of friendships?

Because...We Shouldn't Leave this Important Activity to Chance

Most of us let friendship just happen. We encounter people as we go about our daily routines…attending school, going to work, participating in sports, enjoying our hobbies. As we make our daily rounds, we encounter people that we like and, when the feeling is mutual, friendships develop. For the most part, our friendships develop by chance…we go about our lives and “whatever happens, happens” in the friendship department.

But rather than rely solely on chance to build your friendship circles, you should take this on as an important project, a friendship project. You should think about ways you can promote sound friendship development in your life, and then make the choices needed to turn those plans into specific actions and activities. You can update and use this plan your entire life as the importance of developing friendships will continue until your dying day.

Friendships Are Great Investments

Friends can bring fun, laughs and an endless number of enjoyable moments into our lives. Friends can be there for us when we need someone to talk to and guide us through difficult situations. Friends can be influential concerning our job/career as they become a part of the network that we use to find our way through life. Friends can introduce us to new friends and expand our life experiences. Friends play so many important roles. They can enhance the quality of our lives, as reported below by Madeline Vann and Dr. Pat F. Bass III, MD in Everyday Health:

"Spending time with friends is fun, but it may also yield many long-term physical and emotional benefits.  Studies show that healthy relationships make aging more enjoyable, lessen grief and provide camaraderie to help you reach your personal goals. Maintaining positive friendships should rank up there with healthy eating and exercise as an important investment in your health."

Before making an important financial investment, most of us would think carefully about it, do some homework concerning options and develop a plan to accomplish our financial objectives. Well, your friendships are important, too – more than money will ever be. So, the time you spend to develop sound friendships is, in many ways, an investment that you are making in your future.  That’s why we recommend that you get just as serious about the project of building your friendship circle as you would about investing your money.

In some ways, this element of chance will exist as you implement your friendship project as well.  But, by going about this in a planned, well-thought-out way, you are much more likely to develop meaningful and long-lasting friendships, and to develop more of them. So, improve your chances - and significantly so - by getting started on your friendship project today.

“A true friend is the greatest of all blessings, 
and that which we take the least care to acquire.”
Francois de La Rochefoucauld

What You Need to Know to Get Started

Acquaintances vs. FriendsThere is a big difference between an acquaintance and a true friend, and we need to be aware of this difference. An acquaintance, of course, is someone we know casually…a “we know them when we see them” kind of thing. On the other hand, a friend is “a person who we know, like and trust.” You could even expand this definition to know well, like a lot and trust implicitly. And, why is this distinction important? Well, for two reasons. You will have many, many more acquaintances than friends, so don’t expect it to be the other way around. True friends are hard to come by and most of us only have a few at a time. The second, and more important reason, is that you need to be very careful how you let an acquaintance influence your life or talk you into something that you may not be too sure about. True friends will likely be more concerned about your well being, acquaintances – maybe or maybe not.

Number of Friends. There are thousands of people living within a few dozen miles of most of us. However, our “friendship world” includes only a very small portion of these. According to Lewis Smith in his book Whatever Happened to What’s-His-Name?, we have approximately 400 “pals, mates, chums or buddies” during our lifetime, but only about 30 at any one time. Smith further points out that, on average, only about five or six of these would be considered “close friends in whom we confide and trust.” Although the exact number may be difficult for most of us to pin down, the important point is this – the benefits of true friendship are delivered to us by a very limited number of people.  Therefore, we should put some careful thought into who those friends will be.

The Influence of Friends. Another important point about friends – the level of influence that friendships have in our lives and the way we live it can be very significant. Your friends can influence you in many ways. What your friend is wearing to the party can determine your clothing choices as well. The opinion your friends have of someone, with little awareness, can become your opinion as well. Where your friends want to go and what they want to do can quickly become your plans, too. Even your friends’ little sayings or mannerisms can frequently become a part of your conduct. If you fail to manage these influences and maintain the independence to make your own choices, you can become much “like everyone else” without even noticing it or thinking about it.

Sydney and Her Friends

Sydney had just turned 21, and for many years she’d thought this would be the best birthday in her whole life. Instead, she was feeling very depressed and was sitting down wondering what had happened to her.  She decided to talk to her grandmother who had tried to take care of her since Sydney’s mother died several years ago.

“Gran, I don’t know why things aren’t working out for me.  I’m trying, I promise, but I can’t find a decent job. I don’t ever have any money, and most of my high school friends don’t want to hang out with me anymore. I thought I was going to be so happy when I finally turned 21, but things haven’t worked out that way.”

Her grandmother looked at her lovingly as she thought about all of the wild things Sydney had been involved in over the years. "Sydney, you know I love you more than anything in this world, but I must tell you that I’m disappointed, too.  I could see this coming from the time you were 15-years old. Sydney, I wish I could tell you something different, but you have no one to blame for your unhappiness but yourself.”

Sydney knew where her grandmother was headed. She had been working so hard to be accepted by her friends – wearing clothes like her friends wore, getting the requisite tattoos, moving in with her boyfriend and skipping college so that she would have more time to play and be with him. She’d even learned to drink those special martinis her friends enjoyed so much.

“Sydney, you have made the age-old mistake of thinking that doing what your friends do will make you happy. But that’s poor thinking, just look at the poor choices you have made. If you want to be happy and have a nice group of friends, Sydney, you have to start making choices that are good for you…not the choices that make your friends happy.”

Sydney sat there for a few minutes before she spoke, “Gran, I know you’re right. I’ve actually known what you are telling me for some time.  I just didn’t want to admit that I was being foolish, or upset the friends I do have. But I’m not sure I can turn my life around by myself. Will you help me?”

Gran looked directly into Sydney’s eyes. “Sydney, if you will commit to making better choices, I will help you. But, if you want to go back out there and just do what your friends do…well, I’m getting too old to worry about you anymore.”

Sydney paused for a few moments, then looked up at her grandmother and said, “Gran, I know I’ve made this mess, and I’ve tried to make my friends happy instead of thinking and choosing what was best for me. I promise you I’ll do better if you will help me make the right choices this time.”

As she and her grandmother had agreed that afternoon, Sydney moved out of her boyfriend’s apartment and into one of her own. Over the next eight months, Sydney had frequent “working sessions” at her grandmother’s house.  First, they changed her look. Sydney removed all of her earrings except one pair, lost the hip-huggers and low-cut blouses and starting wearing the new clothes her grandmother had purchased for her. Sydney gave up the martinis and going to the bars with her buddies. Instead, she enrolled in a pre-nursing program at the local college and started spending most of her free time studying in the library. At her grandmother’s urging, she took an after-school job at the local hospital and the money she earned, along with what her grandmother gave her for college expenses, greatly improved her financial situation.

Now, eight months later, as Sydney sat on a bench outside the science building, she reflected on her “new life.”  She’d accomplished a lot during this time, and her grandmother had been exactly right.  By making much better choices, she was not only enjoying a much better life…but she was starting to make much better friends.  Abbey, the store clerk who had helped her create a more conservative look, had also turned out to be a great person and was quickly becoming Sydney’s best friend.  Sydney was also enjoying doing things with Jennifer and Samantha, two of the girls who worked at the hospital after school with her.  And, although it was way too early to be sure, she was elated by the fact that Spencer, a nice-looking guy also working his way through college, had asked her out several times.

Sydney was not sure where all of this would lead, but she knew that by taking her grandmother’s advice and making better choices, she was developing a new life and a great new group of friends as well.

In effect, Gran helped Sydney design her own friendship project.  Equally as important, Sydney was willing to make all of the choices that this plan required.  The plan is one thing – the choices needed to put it into action are another.  Sydney took her life in a totally different direction as a result of this process and the choices she made.

Developing Your Own Friendship Project

This is your friendship project and you are, of course, free to design it as you think best. It should be your own plan and contain activities that are important possibilities to you. Here are our suggestions for some of the steps or ideas you can consider as you put this plan together.

Give It Some Careful Thought.  This may be one of the most important “life planning” activities you have ever done.  Other decisions may take on a greater importance as your life moves along, but right now this is probably the most important thing “on your list.” So take some time and give some careful thought to the activities and choices involved.

Write It Down/Review It from Time to Time.  More careful thought is required to write something down than to just give it some casual thinking. So write down the steps or activities that you want to be a part of your plan.  Save this plan, edit/update it from time to time and “get it out” frequently so you can review it to determine the actual progress you have made.

Decide if You Need Someone to Help You.  There are two other reports in this section titled A Valued Listener (Part 1 and Part 2). If you haven’t read them, maybe you should do that as part of your friendship project plan. You can then determine if you need a valued listener (as Gran was for Sydney in the story above)…a person to help you develop and work through the activities in your friendship plan.

Start by Being a Good Friend.  Perform a little self-assessment…are there some personal changes that you need to make to qualify as a good friend yourself? Do you need to be a little nicer? Do you need to be more helpful? Do you need to stop doing some things that you know are not good for you? What do you need to be doing to be a better person and, at some point, a better friend? Put these into your plan and start now to make the choices to make these adjustments happen.

Look within Your Family.  Look with your family…this is the best place to start developing real and important friendships. Who knows…your sister, your brother, your mom or dad, or even your cousin may also be an important and influential friendship in your life. Sometimes, there is a hands off attitude that develops within families…watch out and make sure such an attitude is not hindering some of the most important friendships you may ever have.

Join Special Groups or Clubs.  Join a school club where you will find others who have the same interests as you. This could be a club in your school or community or an athletic team. If you are not into sports, reconsider the importance of being so. Not only is physical activity good for you, but the experience of practicing, sweating, playing, winning and even losing can be one of the best friendship development experiences of your life.

Volunteer to Do Something for OthersVolunteering at a charity or nonprofit organization can bring you in contact with like-minded people. If you are interested in animals, volunteer at the local animal shelter where you may meet others who are interested in helping animals as well. If you are into reading, volunteer at the local library. Maybe you are interested in the field of human health and would like to help at the hospital. There are limitless choices for volunteerism that will also allow you to meet others with interests similar to yours.

Go to Church, Synagogue or Place of Worship.  Look at your place of worship and consider joining a teen group or volunteer your services as a teacher’s helper there. If you don’t attend church, maybe that’s one of the choices you need to make as part of this friendship project. And, remember you don’t have to understand (or even believe) every last detail associated with the church you attend. You will find many others there who are searching for the truth as well. The important thing is that churches are attended by a lot of good people who, acting collectively with both their personal efforts and their money, do a lot a good for a lot of people who need help and assistance from others. Being a part of this can not only be a great experience for you, but you can make some absolutely wonderful friends here as well.

Conduct Special Friendship Expeditions. This could be attending a summer camp, tutoring a young person in your school, feeding the homeless in one of the kitchens in your community or reaching out to help a family that has just moved to your town or neighborhood. Just look around for something or someone who needs some extra help and provide it.

These are but a few ideas to help you get started with your friendship project. Everyone can benefit from the development of such a plan. You may be the most popular person at your school or in your neighborhood, but you can still gain new and important friends from doing this work. You may, on the other hand, feel that you don’t have enough friends or that, like Sydney, you’ve got the wrong group of friends.

You have the power to change your friendship circumstances. You just have to think carefully about what you need to do, develop your friendship plan, and then make the choices required to fully implement it. If you do a good job on your plan and are willing to make the choices required to fully implement it, you will - like Sydney above - be amazed at the results.

“Since there is nothing so well worth having as friends, 
never lose a chance to make them.” 
Francesco Guicciardini

Written by Shawn Jackson and Michael Nelson

Copyright 2014 / Good Choices Good Life, Inc. / All Rights Reserved 

“We take care of our health, we lay up money, we make our roof tight and our clothing sufficient. But who provides wisely that he shall not be wanting in the best property of all – friends?” Ralph Waldo Emerson