A comprehensive 85-year Harvard research project revealed that the primary source of happiness in life lies in positive relationships, with friendships playing a significant role.
According to the study, one of the seven habits observed in individuals who lead happy and healthy lives is the maintenance of enduring, stable friendships. However, it’s important to note that each of our friendships can take on unique forms, emphasizing that they need not conform to a single template.
The esteemed Greek philosopher Aristotle categorized our friendships into three distinct types. Harvard professor Arthur Brooks, who instructs a course on happiness management, contends that all three types of friendships are essential for experiencing genuine happiness in life.
Exploring the 3 types of friendships and their importance
The concept of three distinct types of friendships, as outlined by Aristotle, is elucidated in Arthur Brooks’ article titled ‘The Best Friends Can Do Nothing for You’, which he shared during his Harvard happiness course. These three types are:
Consider the relationships you have with individuals you collaborate with professionally or engage in business transactions with. These connections typically revolve around exchanges of services or resources, as described by Brooks.
Friendships rooted in pleasure
This category of friendship is founded on mutual admiration and the enjoyment derived from each other’s company. If someone finds their friend amusing, interesting, and a source of delight, it often falls into the category of friendships based on pleasure, as elucidated by Brooks in his article.
According to Aristotle’s criteria, perfect friendships are those that exist between individuals who share a mutual passion for something that not only unites them but also elevates their conduct to virtuous levels. A perfect relationship is not one based solely on utility or pleasure, but rather one that is dedicated to enhancing the well-being of the other person, as pointed out by Brooks.
Utility friendships may not always offer the most fulfilling experiences, and pleasure-based friendships may not progress beyond shared interests. Nevertheless, both types hold significance.
While these two forms of friendships can be instrumental in advancing one’s life, they typically do not bring enduring happiness and solace, as observed by Brooks. Although utility and pleasure friendships are essential, they should not be jeopardized through confrontations, challenging conversations, or intimate disclosures, Brooks advises.
For this reason, it is of utmost importance to nurture ‘perfect’ friendships alongside the other two friendship types to attain genuine contentment in life. These ‘perfect’ friendships may be challenging to articulate in words, but chances are, you recognize the feeling, according to Brooks.
They typically revolve around a shared passion for something beyond the individuals involved, whether it’s something transcendental like religion or simply enjoyable like baseball. Importantly, these friendships are not contingent on work, financial aspects, or ambition.
How to make friends at any age
Friendship remains crucial, regardless of one’s age. While many assume that meeting people is simple, forming genuine connections can be quite challenging. Therefore, it’s not uncommon to feel isolated following significant life transitions, chapters, or losses.
Author Adam Smiley Poswolsky, who wrote ‘Friendship in the Age of Loneliness’, emphasizes that we undergo shifts whenever we enter a new phase in our lives. Establishing new relationships later in life, particularly after milestones like raising children, retiring, or coping with the loss of friends or a partner, can prove even more daunting.
According to the 2023 advisory from the U.S. Surgeon General, one out of every two American adults grapples with loneliness. Poswolsky underscores that this is a shared struggle, affecting both younger and older individuals, with loneliness surging in both age groups.
The way we connect is changing
In today’s fast-paced world, many traditional avenues of connection, such as religious communities or neighborhood networks, are evolving. According to Poswolsky, as we age, our society doesn’t inherently foster strong connections and communities, with older individuals often bearing the brunt of this change.
The challenge of forming friendships later in life is particularly pronounced for marginalized communities, which have often faced exclusion from family and other support structures. LGBTQ+ older individuals, in particular, contend with significant social isolation. Additionally, experiences like grieving the loss of loved ones and the fear of rejection can further complicate the process of forging new connections.
The prospect of meeting new people may initially appear daunting, overwhelming, or even bleak. Nevertheless, shifting away from this mindset can open up a world of opportunities in this phase of life. DaCosta emphasizes that not only are friendships enjoyable, but they also contribute significantly to one’s overall health.
Building relationships, especially in the latter half of one’s life, yields substantial mental and physical benefits. Social isolation can have detrimental effects on health and may increase the risk of premature death, comparable to smoking 15 cigarettes daily, as highlighted in the 2023 report from the U.S. Surgeon General.
Furthermore, a 2005 Journal of Gerontology article indicated that isolation could lead to cognitive decline, coronary heart disease, and strokes. Whether maintaining connections through correspondence or in-person visits, social interactions can help individuals retain a youthful sense of well-being for an extended period.
Fortunately, friendships can blossom at any stage of life, offering an additional layer of support and vitality. Whether they are deep and meaningful or more casual in nature, all forms of friendship are valuable. Moreover, one need not feel lonely to reap the benefits of forming new connections.
Here are 4 steps to discover and nurture new meaningful connections
Discover a group
If the idea of making new friends feels unfamiliar or you’re uncertain about where to begin, there are numerous programs dedicated to connecting people. Nonprofits and community organizations offer some of the most promising opportunities for forming connections. These partnerships are specifically designed to facilitate that initial step. A dating app can be an alternative method too.
Show authentic interest
When it comes to cultivating new friendships, authenticity plays a crucial role. Communicate your openness to and interest in forging new relationships, as suggested by Poswolsky. Express your fascination with someone if you find them intriguing, and inquire if they’d be interested in sharing a meal or a drink.
Expand your horizons
Friendship knows no age boundaries, and it’s not limited to individuals born in the same decade or generation. Poswolsky notes that older adults who have excelled in generativity – investing in and nurturing the next generation – are actually three times more likely to experience happiness.
Scientific research has demonstrated that the more time you spend with someone, the stronger your bond becomes. According to a 2018 study published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, it takes approximately 90 hours of interaction for someone to transition from an acquaintance to a friend, as Poswolsky points out.
Whether it’s a visit to the park, sharing coffee, dining together, or exchanging letters, make use of any setting where you can dedicate time and space to being open and vulnerable. Consistency plays a vital role in this process.
The 3 types of friendships you can make at any age conclusion
No matter what, persistence is key. As Poswolsky advises, building meaningful connections won’t happen overnight and requires some time. If things don’t click immediately, or if you attempt to connect with someone and they become occupied, cancel plans, or simply aren’t a good fit for you, that’s perfectly fine. Keep going and give it another shot.