Since I became clear on my mission in 2008 and launched Owning Pink in 2009, I’ve worked my ass off to bring my vision to being. And it’s working! Patients are transforming their lives, healers are waking up and amplifying the collective message with me, and the seeds of change for how health care could be delivered and received have been planted. Traffic to my blog about being healthy in all aspects of your life is ramping up. I got to talk about my radical new wellness model at TEDxWomen in San Francisco. I’ll be rocking the stage with my message with Louise Hay, Wayne Dyer, Doreen Virtue, Cheryl Richardson, and other transformational catalysts at I Can Do It! IGNITE – San Jose in March. And my book Mind Over Medicine will be published by Hay House in 2013.
The Price of Success
But these professional accomplishments have come at a price. While I’ve made careful choices to prioritize my husband, daughter, and mother, I’ve recently awakened to the fact that I’ve neglected others I love in the process. As the network of people in my social sphere has expanded – via social media, colleagues, blog and book readers, etc. – some of the friends I deeply value have unwittingly gotten pushed into the corners. Those who have asked for my time have gotten it. If a friend calls and needs me, I’ll drop everything. If they email me, I email back.
But those who have stood back and waited for me to come to them (often because they’re mindful of how busy I’ve gotten and don’t want to ask anything of me) have gotten less of me. And this makes me sad.
What Makes A Good Friend
In talking to some of these people – and healing – I began to ask my friends what they needed in order to feel loved. I realized that we all have different definitions of friendship. For some, it means remembering birthdays and sending cards on Valentine’s Day. For others, it’s about Sunday night phone calls or weekly emails. Others don’t give a flip if they don’t hear from you for a year, as long as you pick up where you left off at that once a year meeting. What we need from those we love is very individual.
According to Wikipedia, “Value that is found in friendships is often the result of a friend demonstrating the following on a consistent basis:
- The tendency to desire what is best for the other
- Sympathy and empathy
- Honesty, perhaps in situations where it may be difficult for others to speak the truth, especially in terms of pointing out the perceived faults of one’s counterpart
- Mutual understanding and compassion; ability to go to each other for emotional support
- Enjoyment of each other’s company
- Trust in one another
- Positive reciprocity — a relationship is based on equal give and take between the two parties.
- The ability to be oneself, express one’s feelings and make mistakes without fear of judgment.
I love this definition, because it doesn’t define friendship by those external factors – the birthday cards or the obligatory phone calls. Instead, it gets to the essence of what it means to truly be a friend.
How To Be A Good Friend
In pondering this issue in my life, I came up with a few ideas about how I could be a better friend to those I love. Of course there are the obvious things – drop everything when your best friend needs you, don’t ditch your friends when you fall in love, and remember birthdays. But I wanted to dig deeper into the meat of how to be a good friend. Here’s what I came up with for myself.
- Remember what it means to be a friend. I printed out the definition above and keep it near my nightstand.
- Be mindful of the people you love. I sat down one day and made a list of everyone in my life who I care about but might get neglected when I get busy. Every day, when I meditate at my altar, I look at this list. I’ve found that this simple reminder has shifted things noticeably for me.
- Practice loving kindness. As I look at my list, I send loving thoughts to those I love. And if my intuition hits me to do so, I send a brief email or pick up the phone. That way my friends know they’re on my mind.
- Communicate your needs and ask those you love to do the same. In some of my friendships, I realized that problems arise when we have different expectations. I’m a pretty low maintenance friend. I expect that my friends will call me right back if I’m in the midst of an emergency (as they did when my husband cut two fingers off his left hand with a table saw and I needed child care). I expect that if we live apart and I’m in town, they’ll prioritize making time to get together while I’m there. But short of that, I don’t need much. Holiday gifts, regular phone calls, frequent emails, posts on Facebook walls, getting together for lunch, and other such reminders aren’t necessary for me to know I’m loved. But some of my friends need more of that than I’ve been giving. Once I know this, I can make more of an effort to meet the needs of those I care about.
- Exercise your listening muscle. I find that often the best thing I can do for a friend is to just sit in loving silence.
- Invite your friend to be unapologetically authentic. Offer the same in return. Practice non-judgment. Give each other permission to let your freak flags fly. Be vulnerable. Reveal intimate details.
- Express yourself. If you love your friend, don’t be afraid to say “I love you.” Hug, snuggle, and call each other terms of endearment. Most people are love-starved, and even if it feels foreign at first, the majority of people are dying to feel cherished and touched. One of my single friends regularly asks to “spoon” in bed with me when she visits, and I’m happy to comply. Loving touch and intimate communication builds trust and heals loneliness.
Better Health Through Better Friendships
As we get older, we often get so focused on our families and our careers that we neglect our friendships. But learning how to develop and nurture healthy friendships is an essential part of being healthy. A 10-year Australian study found that older people with boatloads of BFF’s were 22 percent less likely to die than those with fewer friends. A Harvard study showed that our friendships benefit our brain health as we age. And a study of 3,000 nurses with breast cancer found that those with no close friends were four times more likely to die from their disease than those with 10 or more friends. (In fact, friendships may be even more health-inducing than having a spouse. In that same study of nurses with breast cancer, having a spouse did not show a survival benefit – but having friendships did.)
Are Your Friendships Healthy?
Are you a good friend? What advice would you give about being healthier in your friendships?