People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier. It doesn’t seem to matter if we have a large network of close relationships or not. What seems to make a difference is if, and how often, we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings as well as provide support to a friend or relative. Simply put, it’s not the quantity of our relationships, but the quality that matters.
According to many experts, close friendships are becoming rarer. Social bonds, the hidden glue that binds our communities, are becoming weaker. It is perhaps no coincidence that a depression epidemic is now sweeping the industrialised world. We are becoming too busy, too hooked up to electronic gizmos, or too self absorbed, to make or keep friends.
Evidence suggests that friendships and family relationships can be some of the greatest sources of happiness. The great philosophical and political thinker Aristotle split friendships into three types, based on the motive for forming them:
1) friendships of utility
2) friendships of pleasure
3) friendships of the good.
Modern psychology is coming to the same conclusion: Friendships based on unconditional love (friendships of the good) have a powerful effect on the wellbeing of both parties.
It’s ok if your friendship is still stuck in stage one or two, ie, ”I’ll buy you lunch if you give me a hand with my homework" (stage one, utility) and “Let’s hang out. You seem so popular and you make me laugh. ” (stage two, pleasure). But stage three ("I love you because you are who you are. I trust you and will stick with you through thick and thin") is more fulfilling. That sort of relationship simply leaves you feeling great.
Aristotle thought the third kind of friendship could take years to build, after you waded through stages one and two. It could still include utility and pleasure, but the driving force was unconditional love. They usually take a lot of “work,” ie, mutual sacrifice and the significant self control needed not to divulge secrets and break trust. And yet the “payoff” is huge. These “friendships of the good” or “virtuous friendships” fill us with a deeper sense of happiness as we realise that someone loves us for who we are, not for what we do, and will stick around no matter how poor or ugly we get.