Of all the relationships in our life, friendship is often the most enduring. It doesn’t have the turmoil of romance or the tension of parent-child connections or even the jostling competitiveness of work friends to confuse it. Deep friendship is a gift that can stay with us throughout our loves.
Resignation or retirement from paid work doesn’t mean retreating from life. It is a great mystery why some people use retirement as a jumping off point for the rest of their lives, while others shrink into invisibility.
For many of us, it is only when we reach our 60s or 70s that we are able to step back from the maelstrom of productive life to truly enrich and enjoy our friendships. This is the best time to amplify any friendships in our lives.
When bushfires ravaged many parts of Australia in 2020 and people were afraid for their lives, they didn’t call their banks to check the amount of money in their accounts or their insurance companies to see if there would be a payout. They called their family and friends to tell them what they meant to them. Passengers on planes bound, tragically, to crash into the World Trade Center’s twin towers in New York on September 11 did the same.
The art of great friendship is one of the most essential skills to possess at any stage. Deciding to be a great friend is one of the best ways of setting yourself up for a happy life. It also greatly increases your chances of having successful relationships at work, home and in romance.
Life has a way of smoothing out the rougher edges of our egos. Perhaps that is why it takes some of us 60-to-70-odd years to learn how to be with other people without feeling the need to please, impress, provide or compete with them. It also takes time to learn to be with people without trying to improve them.
We know friends are important but – typically – we rarely take the time to be a great friend. Here are some starting points.
1. Invite people into your life
Rather than waiting for someone else to suggest doing something, invite people into your life to share activities. If you can develop some creative or social pursuits, it will make this easier.
2. Choose other people as your number one source of happiness
No matter whether you are rich or poor, powerful or not powerful, famous or unknown, if you don’t have some close friends it all means very little. Decide to make relationships with other people your main source of happiness.
3. Greet people well
If you have ever had a pet dog, you will have noticed how they greet the people they know. They don’t loll on the couch and murmur disinterestedly, “So, you’ve arrived.” They jump up and down with enthusiasm! Give each person that you meet the feeling that you are delighted to see them. If you have some doubts about this, just try it for a week and see what the results are.
If you lack confidence in talking to new people, try for one week just saying a brief “hello” to five new people each day. If you go into a shop, ask the person serving you, “How are you today?” While not everyone will be chatty, you will develop your friendship skills and become more confident.
4. Get interested
Part of being a great friend is being interested in how other people are going and listening to them. Being really interested sets you apart from the rest of the world and helps you stand out as a great friend. Listening means giving someone your undivided attention and really hearing what they have to say. When you listen to what other people are saying properly, conversation becomes much easier because you know what interests them.
5. Show people that you appreciate them
People like people who like them. Showing that you are pleased to see someone, asking them how they are and expressing interest in their answers are great starting points.
In life, there are two types of people: praisers and put-downers. Put-downers look for what is wrong in life, make it someone’s fault and employ criticism and ridicule. They are jealous. Praisers look for the best in others and tell people what they like. Guess which group has a happier life? You’ve got it: praisers.
Think about how you would like to be regarded by other people. Do you want to be known as a negative critic or a positive pleasure?
Most people are fearful they will be made fun of if they praise someone. This is not true. Ask yourself how many times you have turned to someone who has said something nice and made fun of them? Be brave. Dare to thank and praise someone today.
After interviewing more than 500 000 people to trace the most common identifiable stages of life, I shared what I learnt about the universal truths we all share at different ages – and how to achieve a sense of inner peace – in my 2019 book Your Best Life at Any Age: How to Acknowledge Your Past, Revive Your Present & Realise Your Future.