In line with the theme of making of good choices to improve ones life, here is an oft ignored or minimized aspect of our lives which deserves far more consideration than we tend to give it. Its one that, on being more mindful and thoughtful with regards to such, can improve the satisfaction and joy of your life in major, significant ways.
What exactly am I referring to?
The mindful, careful, thoughtful choosing of those with whom you surround yourself and spend time.
First off, this applies to basically everyone in our life. Friends, romantic partners, and yes, even family. Because while you cannot choose to whom you are born or related, you absolutely can choose (though not necessarily without pain and loss) which family members you allow in your life and heart. Just because someone is your blood, even a sibling or parent, does not mean they are a healthy or good presence for you. For many people, they are. And sadly for many, these people are not.
You will need to choose, not necessarily what is easiest, but what is healthiest and truly best for you. All of this is of course, relative to the person, relationship, and situation.
With all of that said, how does one do that? Be mindful and choosy with regard to picking who they hang out with. And, why is this crucial to ones happiness and even, ones health?
First, why is this such an important life thing? Choosing carefully with whom you surround yourself.
Because it determines your health and habits, your happiness and sense of connectedness, as well as your overall life satisfaction and joy.
We become like the people with whom we spend the most time. Studies have shown this to be true, time and time again.
If you hang out with people who do drugs, smoke, or drink a lot, you are several times more likely to partake in those activities yourself. Even if these things had not interested you prior.
If you spend time with people who are into healthy eating and exercise, you are way more likely to find yourself engaging in those activities and mindsets.
If you hang in the company of people who are often negative, bitter, gossipy, mean, and/or unhappy, you are far more likely to feel less happy, more cynical, and crappy yourself. Yes, moods rub off and are, to a degree, contagious. Whereas, if you surround yourself with those who are joyful, contented, upbeat, grateful, and kind, you are more likely, by leaps and bounds, to both feel these same emotions and adapt a similar demeanor.
If you join company with those who are movers and shakers, inspired and hard working, creative and adventurous, you have way higher likelihood of adapting these behaviors and temperaments.
Whereas if you spend time with people who are largely lazy, who do not do much in their lives, who are not especially open thinking or adventurous, you are more likely to slide into similar ways of thinking and being.
Emotionally and mentally healthy people tend to hang out with those like them. And by the same token, emotionally and mentally unhealthy people tend to gravitate toward and bond with those who are similar. Because people who are truly healthy are not drawn towards those who are unhealthy. Instead, they sense it, and keep their distance.
We often significantly under-estimate just how much of an influence and impact the company we keep has on our psyches, habits, and life satisfaction.
As a related and relevant side note: one red flag to look out for in your choosing people wisely. If you have a relationship with someone who tends to talk a lot about themselves. Their issues, their dramas, their accomplishments, their interests, their opinions, their life happenings, and then show little to no genuine interest or true depth of focus on yours?
This isn’t actually a friendship, if the relationship is largely all about the other person. Instead it’s more of a lopsided, grossly imbalanced, using situation. One person using the other as a dumping ground (whether subconscious or not).
People who are largely, or even solely focused on themselves do not have the emotional space, maturity, nor interest to truly connect with others. Not until they get out of that self absorbed, often self victimizing, it’s-all-about-me head space.
This “friendship” is one that is guaranteed to leave you wanting. To result in your feeling disconnected, dissatisfied, even lonely. While everyone does this on occasion, talk more than the other person (and sometimes, that is totally ok), a relationship should generally feel balanced. You should feel as though, overall, there is a mutual sense of sharing, interest, talking, and listening.
So, in terms of whom we choose to spend time with:
A “friend” is not necessarily a real friend.
Someone is actually not better than nothing.
Quantity does not matter in the least. Quality is where the tipping point lies.
We have both, such limited free time in our often over-scheduled and ever busy lives, as well as limited time here on earth in which to revel in life, love, and what truly lights us up inside. Thus, we do not have time to waste on relationships that are mediocre, mostly stressful, crappy, and even downright unhealthy.
You can love someone and still have limits, even strong ones. You can care for someone deeply and simultaneously recognize that they are not great for you to spend time with(and adjust your boundaries accordingly). You can also generally like someone just fine (say, a colleague or acquaintance), while recognizing that they are not someone with whom you would wish to invest significant time otherwise. None of this makes you a bad person, nor them.
You can also have a healthy, joyous, and satisfying relationship with someone for a while, even years, and then something changes and it is no longer a great or healthy fit for you. This is ok, and completely normal too.
The trick is remaining mindful and aware. Relationships are ever shifting, growing, and changing. It is important to both: choose wisely in the first place, as well as, to continually check in and re-evaluate.
So, now that we know why choosing the people in our lives is so important.
How to choose carefully?
First, do not just jump into a friendship with someone full fledged, with both feet, and right off the bat, without getting to know someone first.
Observe them prior to making this decision, in varying situations if possible. Listen to the words they say. Watch how they act. What do their values seem to be. Are they (for the most part) a great listener? Are they warm and kind? Do they have strong morals? Are they just as interested in you, as you are them? (Hint: their actions, not their words, will show this). Are they respectful?
Spend time with someone several times while in the midst of this assessing/decision making mindset, not with the mindset of “we are already friends. Cool. Done.” But instead, with the intent of getting to know and considering this person first.
Are they someone in whom you want to invest, and whom you wish to invite into your life further?
Next, consider the follow questions as you get to know this person:
1. Does this person show genuine, significant interest in me as a person? In my life, feelings, experiences, etc? Do they ask, and actually listen to the responses? Do they remember things I tell them? Are they curious about you, both, asking about updates since they saw you last, as well as continuing to learn more about you as the relationship goes along? This curiosity should be obvious, and lasting.
If not, if the person is largely interested in talking about themselves instead, they may be lonely and are just looking for any person onto whom they can latch (so it’s not necessarily a real interest in you- in this case. They will take anyone. And again, this is that person that, whether kind or not, whether consciously or not, they do not have the emotional space available to be a good friend, as they are too self focused), or they might be truly incredibly self centered, or just not that genuinely interested in you personally. None of these make for someone who is emotionally available enough to be a real friend.
Because a friendship, or any relationship (romantic, familial) are all investments, and not small ones, it is crucial to chose those which will fill our souls. If someone does not show equal interest and effort towards you, the type that you feel and have for them? Forget it. Not a worthwhile investment for you. It’s one that will cost and drain you, without offering much fulfillment in return.
2. Is this person, for the most part, fun to be around? A joyous presence? Uplifting and emotionally healthy?
Of course, no one is 100% happy and fun all the time. Sometimes, friendships will entail lending a supportive and loving ear. Listening when it might be somewhat tiring and a bit of a downer. Involving some semblance of sacrifice or stretching oneself for the sake of your love for this other person. Sometimes, friendship has periods of challenge and necessary support. However, a friendship should be, for the most part (80–85% of it), a happy and fun thing.
If you find that a friendship has become resoundingly negative, it might be time to either have a heart to heart with your friend, and if things don’t get better, potentially reconsider the relationship as no longer healthy or fitting.
Because, while part of being a good friend does mean being supportive, it does not mean allowing them to drag your down frequently, or dump on you consistently and most of the time. That results in an emotionally unhealthy, heavy, majorly lopsided friendship.
3. Do they inspire and bring out the best in you?
Do you tend to feel, in this persons company, like your most awesome self? Inspired? Happy? Prompted towards trying your best? Encouraged? Challenged in positive ways?
Or, does someone tend to make you feel uninspired, lazy, like a crappier version of yourself, bored, or even brought down? Do they complain a lot? Do they bring out unhealthy or bad behaviors and modes of thinking within you? Do they rarely truly listen to you? Not good.
4. Are they reliable? Trustworthy? Do they keep their word?
Real friends, those worth investing in, are willing to invest in you too. Thus, they are reliable. Barring very rare occasions, they keep dates you have made. You know that if you tell them something personal, they will hold the information with care and respect, as well as without judgement. You can count on this person.
5. Do they prioritize spending time with you? Commit to and remember the date? Is it clear that spending time with, as well as listening to and getting to know you, is important to them?
A genuine friend is someone who makes it obvious that spending time with you is important and a joy in their life. They are willing to commit to a date and time. They stay in touch with you. They are responsive and available. They reciprocate interest, not with words but with action. They make the time to hang out with you and enjoy your company routinely.
6. Are they lovingly honest?
When you truly care for someone, you will tell them the truth, even if it might be difficult. In reference to the bestselling book “The Road Less Traveled” by Scott Peck, when you care deeply for/love someone and witness them hurting either themselves or others with their actions or choices, you say so. Essentially being willing to “risk the relationship” if you will, to tell them where you see their hurtful choices happening. Even if it pisses off or hurts them to hear it.
When you genuinely care about someone, you cannot and do not stand by silently and say nothing. If you choose to say nothing? This isn’t care or love, it’s taking the easier, less caring, more cowardly route.
However, important note on honesty, some people think honesty means uncensored, harsh, strident, even cruel. No. This isn’t love either. It’s nastiness and cruelty, even a form of hatred. You can be honest while still being loving and kind.
7. Do they accept, love, and celebrate you for who you are?
Real friends who actually love you, they do not try to change you. They do not criticize or put you down. They do not judge or condemn you. They are open hearted, supportive, and celebrate you for the person you are. Its obvious, via both action and word, that this person likes and even loves you for you. That they see both your strengths and awesome traits, as well as your challenges and crappier ones, and they love you anyway. And even, that they admire and think you are the bomb diggity.
To conclude with four quotes which I love and feel strongly depict genuine, emotionally close, healthy and positive, truly great friendships (which are rarer than you think- but again, this is largely within your control).
But first, a final takeaway: do not do the more impatient, easier thing and just grab anyone who seems initially cool off the bat. Get to know them first slowly, observe and consider their character as you get to know them, and choose bravely and wisely. You will have a far more satisfying, joyous, connected sense with your friends, family, colleagues, and partner, if you do so.