One of the most important findings of the Harvard Study of Adult Development is that strong relationships are essential for happiness and longevity. People who have strong social ties, including close friendships outside of their romantic relationships, tend to live longer and happier lives. In the age of social media, where connections are made with a swipe and relationships often thrive online, it can be easy to forget the true essence of friendship. Are your friendships leaving you yearning for something more? It’s possible that the presence of “deal friends” might be masking the absence of meaningful, authentic connections. Let’s delve into the concept of deal friends, the profound impact of genuine friendships on our well-being, and how to foster these connections for a richer, more fulfilling life.

The Deal Friend Dilemma

Picture your friendships as a tapestry of interactions and connections. Among them, you’ll likely find a category known as “expedient friendships” or “deal friends.” These are the companions with whom your connection is not solely based on camaraderie, but rather on mutual utility. Perhaps it’s a colleague who can help you further your career or a friend who can lend a hand when you need it. These relationships have their place and serve a purpose, but they rarely offer lasting joy and comfort.

Research has long demonstrated that friendships are integral to happiness. They account for a substantial portion of the variance in an individual’s happiness, irrespective of their extroversion or introversion tendencies. While you don’t need a multitude of friends, it’s crucial to cultivate connections beyond the superficial. Real friendships, those born of shared values and genuine connection, are where lasting joy resides.

True Friendships Bring Deep Satisfaction

Real friendships are characterized by a shared love for something beyond the mundane. It could be a passion, a cause, or an aspect of life that transcends the constraints of work and ambition. These are the connections that bring genuine fulfillment and comfort. In contrast, deal friendships, despite their usefulness, often leave us feeling incomplete because they don’t involve the whole self. These relationships can’t withstand the vulnerability of true intimacy and deep conversations.

Balancing Friendship in a Busy World

Our fast-paced lives and the pressures of professional success often steer us toward deal friendships. With long work hours and bustling schedules, our family and friend time might take a backseat. Striking a balance between meaningful friendships and expedient connections is essential for a fulfilled life.

Friendships Along Aristotle’s Ladder

The eminent Greek philosopher Aristotle (384–322 BC) is thought to have made some of the greatest contributions to world thought in all of human history. In his most influential work, Nicomachean Ethics, written around 350 BC, he presented ideas central to his philosophy of happiness, virtue, prudence, and ethical behavior.

Aristotle wrote about the nature of our relationships, particularly that there are three types and levels of friendships.

  • Utility friendship: This type of friendship is based on the mutual benefits that the friends provide for each other. For example, two friends may be friends because they help each other out with their work or because they enjoy going to the same parties.
  • Pleasure friendship: This type of friendship is based on the enjoyment that the friends bring to each other. For example, two friends may be friends because they make each other laugh or because they enjoy spending time together doing activities that they both enjoy.
  • Virtue friendship: This type of friendship is based on the mutual respect and admiration that the friends have for each other. For example, two friends may be friends because they share the same values or because they admire each other’s character.

Aristotle believed that the highest form of friendship is virtue friendship. This is because virtue friendship is based on the qualities that make us good people, such as honesty, kindness, and courage. Virtue friendships are lasting and fulfilling because they are based on the things that are most important to us.

Here are some additional thoughts from Aristotle on friendship:

  • True friendship is rare. It takes time and effort to build a genuine friendship.
  • True friends are there for each other through thick and thin. They are willing to forgive each other’s mistakes and support each other’s dreams.
  • True friends make us better people. They challenge us to be our best selves and help us to grow and learn.

If you are lucky enough to have true friends, cherish them. They are a precious gift.

Three Steps to Cultivating Authentic Friendships

  1. Friendship Checkup: Reflect on the depth of your connections. How many people truly know you, beyond the surface level? If the number is alarmingly low, you’re not alone. Many individuals report feeling misunderstood or disconnected. Recognize this and take steps to change it.
  2. Going Deep: Engage in conversations that delve beyond the superficial. Share your thoughts, concerns, and aspirations. Open the door to vulnerability and encourage your friends to do the same. These meaningful exchanges are the foundation of genuine bonds.
  3. Seeking Meaningful Connections: Step outside of your work-related networks and pursue friendships that aren’t tethered to utility. Engage in activities that align with your passions, such as community service or shared hobbies. These environments foster connections based on common interests rather than career aspirations.

The Bottom Line

In a world that praises professional achievements and fast-paced lifestyles, the value of true friendships can be overlooked. Yet, the most profound need is to know and be known on a deeper level. Recognizing the presence of deal friends and actively cultivating authentic connections can transform your life. Aristotle’s wisdom still holds true: Seek friendships of virtue, untethered from utility, and watch as these relationships become the cornerstone of your happiness and fulfillment. So, take a moment to evaluate your friendships, go deep, and open yourself up to the transformative power of real connections.