What are the qualities to look for in a best friend? We all need good friends. So says psychiatrist Saul Levine in his article on “The Importance of Friendship” in Psychology Today. But it doesn’t take a doctor to convince me of the benefits of friendship. Or research either, although science proves that close friendships are our most valuable assets. As Dr. Levine points out, they enhance our moods, ability to function and emotional and physical health. Most of us know this intuitively. But when a friend asked me to write a piece on the topic of what makes a best friend, I realized there is so much we do not know intuitively, and also take for granted.
To organize my thoughts, I began thinking of the women in my life who have those unique qualities and gifts that draws me to them. “What’s their secret?” I thought to myself.
A generational difference in friendship
My answer came when I recalled a day many years ago. I was taking a walk on the beach in Honolulu with my girlfriend Carolyn. I was in my late thirties, and she in her late forties. I asked her, “How do you keep up with all of your friends?” She answered, “Maintaining friendships isn’t easy. It’s a full-time job. You have no idea how many hours I spend nurturing my friendships.” Then we changed the subject and chattered on about something else. But I never forgot our talk.
I realized the 10-year age difference made a big difference in how we viewed our roles as women and girlfriends. She was a homebody with four children, a husband and lots of time to focus on her female friends. My generation had one foot firmly planted in our home, and the other searching for greater fulfillment in the outside world. We were the women who began to spread our wings and wear other hats besides wife, mother, daughter, sister and girlfriend. And that included further education, a career path and travel.
I began to understand how complicated it would be to answer my girlfriend’s question. After all, how can we maintain our quality relationships with women given our hurried lives today, and probably for quite some time in the future? Most women I know in my generation show no signs of slowing down,.
Friendships I love
I started thinking about the women I hold dear. I realized each of them have the same five qualities that, in my mind, constitute a best friend. And giving me their constant time was not one of them. I believe their personal qualities far surpass the quantity of hours they spend on friendships.
Best of all, anyone can embrace these five qualities, which I have listed here, and use them to deepen or improve their own friendships. They are as follows:
Qualities to look for in a best friend
1. Openness and honesty: Best friends don’t wear masks to conceal their real thoughts. A real friendship can’t be built on falsehoods. This kind of honesty is a rare commodity. If you possess it, make the most of it by using it judiciously. And choose friends who will see this quality in you and treasure you for it.
2. Loyalty: It is an absolute requirement. A best friend knows how to hold her tongue with your secret and how to use her tongue to defend you. It is very easy to gossip because of envy, anger and a range of other negative emotions.
3. Giving instead of taking: Best friends are generous with themselves. They are generous with their feelings and gain far more happiness when giving rather than getting. I watch the joy in their faces.
4. Empathy: Best friends sympathize with you, and are on your wavelength because they know how to relate to your feelings. They can walk in your shoes. This kind of friend is a keeper.
5. Positivity: I have noticed that my closest girlfriends brighten a room when they enter. Positive women revel in an attitude that is enticing and catching. They are like a warm blanket, wrapping happiness and joy around you.
I return to Carolyn and her quote: “Friendship is a full time job.” In our busy society I find that an impossible point of view. So I have my own take on the issue. If you have girlfriends with the five qualities I mentioned, and you mirror them, you will stay connected out of mutual honesty, loyalty, empathy, positivity and generosity.