When our U.S. Surgeon General, Dr. Vivek Murthy, reported earlier this year that loneliness is more widespread than any other major health issue in the United States, I felt a wave of compassion for all of us. In a post-COVID, handheld smart phone device, automated world, we’re struggling with social disconnection.
And we need each other – not only to stay alive, but also to thrive and experience happiness. Living is community is essential to our wellbeing. Friendship is a lifesaver and a life-maker. Being with our friends makes our lives meaningful – it doubles our joy because we get to share it and it softens our suffering because we bear it – together.
With friendship being so essential to our health, so much a part of the skin and bones of who we are, it could follow that we are innately great friends.
But we’re not. We’re extremely complex – and as much as we’re drawn to each other, we hurt each other – and even before we get hurt, we’re scared to get hurt. Supposing friendship arrives in one’s life without effort – to sustain the ups and downs, the closeness and distance of a long-term friendship, we need to put in the effort. Add in the way we move through the world these days: fast, unconscious, communicating on the go through texts, constantly processing information from requests for a specific type of Triscuit at the grocery store to the latest breaking story of an unexpected death or violent war crime that happened across the globe, and I think it’s fair to say: it’s hard to make and maintain friends.
I notice this is my coaching work. This past year, grieving the loss of friendship or feeling confused by the changing nature of a friendship has been a common topic. And when I speak and/or work with high school and college-aged people, they talk about how hard it is to make friends at a new school and break into a different social circle when a friend group shifts and they are left out.
Social media amplifies our feelings around friendship. We want to share photos with our friends and celebrate our connections publicly, and we pick the attractive-looking images. Of course, we do. If I were to be perusing social media without the privilege of regularly listening to people’s personal and inner experiences with the people in the pictures they post, I would absolutely believe everyone has friendship figured out except me.
And even with the inside track I travel, I can still get heady about friendship. Am I doing it right? Am I in touch with enough people? Am I content in this area of my life? I love my friends and then I don’t see them or talk to them because I get busy or they get busy and our kids go to different schools and I work alone – and I need to be alone, a lot, to do the work I do.
Some days, it leaves me to wonder – am I lonely? And if I’m lonely, and I’m a person who is connected to a wonderful community in Los Angeles and an amazing community of readers and clients, like y’all, and friends from my childhood and college – what does that mean for a person who doesn’t have any engagement with neighbors or a work life or friends who have stayed in connection through the years? This is a sign of our times. And it calls for compassion – compassion for all of us.
We are in it together. And we can become better friends to each other, with gratitude – the medicine for the time that is Now.
One of the key factors of a strong friendship is trust – and one of the best ways to build trust is to express gratitude. When you share your appreciation for a friend, that person experiences a boost of positive emotion. There is a validation, an acknowledgement of who that person is for you, and that’s bonding. You are someone special to each other.
And with gratitude, fledging friendships grow, the pain of friendship lost can be healed, and new pathways to heartfelt connection are created.
I love these last few days of the year because they invite reflection. We’re closing up 2023 – and there’s a collective instinct to take stock before the year turns.
When I look back on a year, and it seems to be true for every year: I cherish the memories I have made with friends, I treasure these expressions of love.
Friends I haven’t seen in years….
Friends with big birthdays to celebrate…..
Friends who put so much light in your summer visits that you shine all year long….
Friends who show up for you like family…..
Friends you meet in Sedona who can go and laugh with you to the outer edges of your spiritual beliefs…….
Friends who are so life-giving they have become Friendsgiving….
I am grateful for time spent with these friends and more.
Whether you have had some moments of loneliness or you have felt fully lonely this year or somewhere in between, the answer to that void is connection – and too often, we wait for connection to feel grateful.
Today is a day to be grateful and let that gratitude lead you to more points of connection. Love your friends. Love them like your life depends on it – because it does.
DAY 27 Reflection Questions
*How do you show affection to your friends? Do you write loving texts? Are you a person who gives good hugs? Would you mail a funny card to a friend? Think of a way you can communicate your appreciation for a friend today, and make that point of connection.
*Go back through the pictures on your phone and notice the photos you took with friends. What memories do you cherish? What pictures can you save to your “LOVE” folder (see Day 12) and return to when you need to feel a sense of belonging?
*When you go out into the world, remember that you are loved – which means you are in the position to offer connection. Reaching out to people and being kind is more than just an altruistic thing to do – it is now vital for the future of us.