How to Water (Or Weed) Your Friendship Garden
Meaningful friendships are so important to our mental and physical health, especially as we age. Strong social networks have been shown to lengthen longevity in elderly men and women, with good friends contributing even more benefits than close family members. I know now more than ever, my friends are critical to my well being. I have a bestie whom I met at my first job out of college, and a friend who is like a sister, whom I met when I started my business 19 years ago. I also have a client who is a newer, cherished friend. Whether we have lifelong friends or new friends, each is a treasure. The challenge for many of us is finding the time to take care of these relationships. So how can we foster these valuable friendships when we are so busy?
Tend your friendship garden
You wouldn’t grow a beautiful garden and forget to water it! So being intentional about friendships and dedicating consistent time, if only for an afternoon or evening a month, will keep the friendship garden blossoming. Make a point to schedule time with each friend for coffee, a playdate with the kids, a night out, a shared household project, a painting class, a long walk, or however you enjoy sharing time together. In this day of technology and busy schedules, even a nice text message to check in can create a quick but thoughtful dialogue. It’s about letting your friend know they are a worthy addition to your schedule.
Lean on me
For a friend who is working through life’s challenges, you can be a bright spot in their day and keep your friendship strong during hardship. It’s important to remember that difficulties can bring out the best or the worst sides of your friendship. Realize you don’t know the whole story (and maybe never will), but you can still lend your support. A good friend is unbiased and nonjudgmental, and doesn’t require answers or explanations. Be the person who encourages and listens to them. Set aside the inclination to provide advice, opting instead to acknowledge their feelings and lift them up.
Laughter is the best medicine
If you are really fortunate, you have several friends, old and new who add life, love, and value to your days. Laughter feeds relationships better than neglect! So whether you’ve known a friend all your life or only a short but impactful time, laugh out loud as often as you can! These are the times you will both remember.
Do the little things
You’ve heard me talk about the deeply personal meaning of a handwritten note, such as a thank-you note. A tangible, handwritten note is a simple and inexpensive gesture that can make a huge impact. Giving a thoughtful card to a friend means they’ll have something to hold on to and read when they need a boost or a virtual hug. Make a habit of picking up cards that have a picture you know a friend will love, or a funny greeting card when you visit new shops or cities. Your collection will grow, and you will never be without an opportunity to say “I’m thinking of you.”
Know when it’s time for a friend divorce
As much as we would like our friendships to last forever, some friendships are meant to carry us through certain times of life and then end. For everyone to remain healthy, some friendships need to end. This isn’t about defriending someone on Facebook; a friend divorce happens when you care enough about yourself and the other person to initiate the difficult conversation, “I don’t want you to be a part of my life anymore.” And unfortunately, these can be friendships that were once very close. But how will you know when it’s time to initiate the divorce?
It’s obvious when a friend does something so shocking that you know they cannot remain in your life. But there are also subtler reasons to consider a friend divorce. Take the friend you’ve known your whole life—you had some crazy times in your 20s, but now you’re in your 40s and your friend is still living the bar scene you have outgrown. Then there’s the friend who disappeared when your chips were down—you may have tried to sort things through with them, but you’re sure they’d be just as fair weather the next time. What about that friend you contact out of obligation, or that friend you dread spending time with? Then there are those friends that, as you mature, you realize simply do not bring you joy or make you feel good about yourself. The common thread is, great friendships make you happy, and what happiness looks like to you might change over time. Value yourself enough to ensure the people in your life have earned that plot in your friendship garden.
Friendships come in all the seasons of our lives, and good friendships are important to cherish and nurture with the gifts of our time, our love, and our laughter. Friendships can even help us live longer from the joy they bring! And when we feel more joyful inside, this joy radiates outwardly when people see or meet us, opening the door to make more meaningful connections. We feel more grounded, happy, and ready to achieve our goals for 2020! What changes will you make to your friendship garden this year?