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10 ways to be a great friend


"Walking with a friend in the dark is
better than walking alone in the light." 

Helen Keller


Recently, I received a request to write a post about friendship. At first, I was stumped. I have some great friends—many of which I've had for over a decade!—but I wasn't exactly sure how these friendships had gotten so strong and lasted so long. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that a lot actually went into making these relationships all that they are. Time, effort, and attention had been dedicated to transform relationships, making them incredibly valuable parts of my life. 

Friendship is one of the most essential elements for creating a positive life. While one certainly could be positive without friends, it's much easier to stay optimistic with great people by your side. Being a friend isn't always easy—there are ups and downs, just like in any relationship—and it actually takes a lot of hard work to create a lasting and meaningful relationship. To have great friends, you must be a great friend; these are some of the vital aspects needed to cultivate that greatness: 



Tough times are a part of life. We all go through them, and we all benefit greatly from those who stick by our sides when the going gets rough. No matter how tough things get, great friends stick. When the tough times are going on within the relationship, it can be a very difficult thing to do, but that's what makes a great and lasting friendship. Even when it's tempting to throw in the towel, a great friend will stick by your side and do his/her best to work through tough times. 



Encouragement is one of the best things about having a great friend. No matter how down or stressed you feel, a great friend will remind you that you're awesome, that you're on the right path (as long as you are...), and that you can do it. Great friends don't stop encouraging you, even when you've completed a goal. And they don't let you forget how amazing you were at getting to where you are now. There are times when that encouragement might seem to fall on deaf ears, but a great friend knows that, even if it goes unappreciated, encouragement is essential to creating a worthwhile friendship. 



This part of being a great friend can be tough. People don't always want to hear the honest truth. But that's what a great friend does. S/he tells it like it is—even when it might be hard to speak the truth. A great friend will especially be honest about the important things, like whether or not you are being treated fairly or whether or not you should keep doing something that's dragging you down. Even if the words are hard to say, a great friend will always, always tell the truth. 



Friendship is a two-way street. If you're only giving or only taking, you're not being a great friend. To be a great friend, you must learn to give (your time, your truth, your love), but you must also learn to accept what's given in return. For some, it can be hard to accept aspects of friendship, but taking is part of the deal. Accept time, love, compliments, the truth—and do so willingly. Likewise, a great friend isn't ever hesitant to give. To be a great friend, you must both give and receive. 



While some of the best relationships are built on mutual interests, to be a great friend must be able to respect the line where the similarities end and recognize that differences don't have to stand in the way of a good relationship. In fact, some of the best relationships can come develop with those who are quite different. The key is respect. You don't have to like the differences, but to be a great friend, you must respect them. 



"A friendship can weather most things and thrive in thin soil; but it needs a little mulch of letters and phone calls and small, silly presents every so often—just to save it from drying out completely," said Pam Brown, and I couldn't agree more. If you want to be a great friend, you have to make an effort. And sometimes it's the little things that matter most—the letters, the phone calls, the quick catch-up lunches. To keep a friendship afloat, a great friend will put in the time to stay connected. 



As with any relationship, taking it for granted can be the kiss of death. No matter how long you've been friends or how solid your relationship is, know that a great friend will never, ever take that relationship for granted. Friendships, especially good ones, are not a given and they should be treated as the amazing things that they are. A great friend will make a point to treasure the relationship and will make it clear how much s/he values it. 



When you know someone well, it might be tempting to judge his or her actions (or in-actions!), but a great friend refrains from judging, knowing that judgments will only put strain on the relationship. A great friend is willing to speak the truth, but he or she holds back from adding personal judgment to those words of wisdom. A great friend also avoids comparisons, knowing that comparing is an excellent way to damage a good relationship. 



Though a great friend will be honest and truthful, s/he will also search for the good and focus on the positive elements of a friend's life. No matter how negative a friend gets, a great friend will try to redirect the focus back to the positive. A great friend will remember all the goodness and positivity in another's life and will focus on that. And even when times are tough in the relationship, a great friend will strive to see the good in the friendship. 



To be a great friend, you must also be your own friend. The foundation of any relationship is the relationship you have with yourself—and any great friend knows that. A great friend will cultivate a good relationship within and, in doing so, will become a better friend to others. Loving and appreciating yourself sets the tone for how you will love and appreciate others and a great friend realizes that and will put a great deal of effort into creating both internal and external relationships. 


There are many ways to be a great friend, but all of those rely on one's ability to be aware of the relationship and to value friendship. Some friendships are easier than others, but all take work. If the effort isn't made, the relationship won't last. A great friend knows this and puts in the time and energy needed to create and sustain a good relationship. As with most worthwhile things, there's no shortcut to creating a long-lasting, tried-and-true friendship, but the effort put in is worth it when you reap the rewards of having a great friend by your side. 

the happiness of pursuit

"As long as one keeps searching, the answers come."
Joan Baez


I like to hunt.

Not exactly the words you'd expect from an animal-loving vegetarian, but it's not hunting wild game I enjoy: it's the game of hunting. Hunting for things (not animals) makes me happy. Really happy. Whenever I'm in the zone of trying to find the absolute perfect thing—say, themed decor for a party, a photo for a blog post, or a gift for a friend—I'm thrilled. Hopping from webpage to webpage, darting from store to store, I get a rush of excitement, knowing that just around the corner could be the very thing I've searching looking for. 

I realized I wasn't alone in my happy hunting when I read this in a recent TIME Magazine article, "Search activity [or, forward-looking behavior that often occurs in pursuit of a specific goal] simply feels good—a fact that helps explain why shopping for something is often more fun than buying it, hunting can be more enjoyable than actually bagging your prey, and so many politicians appear to have a better time running for office than holding it." 

It turns out that looking for things can, in fact, be more enjoyable than actually getting them. I couldn't agree more with this. Whenever I finally find what I'm looking for, there's a burst of excitement followed by a bit of a letdown. Getting what you want isn't quite as great as going after what you want. The thrill of the hunt is where the excitement—and happiness—lies. Here are some of the ways to make the most of hunting. (Note: these hunting tactics also work for finding a job, a mate, etc.)



Sounds obvious, but it's essential to know exactly what you want before you go after it. Think about the details—every itty bitty thing. The more specific you get, the more likely you'll be to find what you're searching for. For example, let's say you want an orange shirt. If you look only for orange shirts, you'll find a lot of stuff—way too much, in fact. But if you decide you want a silk, button-down orange shirt, you'll be much more likely to find what you need in a much shorter time frame. Get really specific and know exactly what you're looking for. 



It's always good to have a plan, and hunting is no different. When you're searching for something, knowing where to look is essential. Depending on what it is, sometimes looking online is the best way to start. Sometimes in person is the way to go. The important thing isn't where you start, though: it's where you go. Once you know exactly what you're after, it's time to map out where you need to go to get it. There are so many ways to find what you're looking for so it's important to narrow it down to the best places before you start looking. 



Don't limit yourself when it comes to searching for what you want. You can find what you're looking for in the oddest places (believe me, I know!), but you have to make sure you take advantage of every resource you have. Online resources are always excellent—you can search for anything!—but don't ignore offline resources too. Ask people you know (or even those you don't!) for search suggestions. A fresh perspective can take you in a new direction, and you just might find what you're looking for.  



You never know where you'll find exactly what you're looking for. I've stumbled on amazing finds in the most random of places. Keep your eyes open. You might not expect to find decor in a bookstore or the perfect gift at the super market, but if you keep your eyes (and mind!) open, you'll be surprised at how often you find what you're seeking in an unexpected place. People say you often find what you're looking for when you stop looking, but I think you find it when you're always looking. 



After determining exactly what you want, it can be difficult to settle for something that doesn't meet all the criteria, but perfection truly is the enemy of good. While I'm all for hunting until you find the thing that is absolutely perfect, sometimes you have to know when close enough is better than nothing. For example, going back to that first example, finding a silk orange shirt with no buttons is better than no orange shirt at all. Know what's absolutely essential and be willing to let the less important things slide. 


Though I'll never be a hunter in the traditional sense, I do consider myself a seeker, a chaser. When I know what I want to find, I go looking for it with dogged purpose—and I enjoy every minute of the hunt. It's taken some time for me to realize it, but it's not only the pursuit of happiness I enjoy, but the happiness of the pursuit. 

searching for seashells: lessons from a 7-year-old


A few weeks ago, I spent a few days with my boyfriend's niece, an adorable seven-year-old, Maggie. I only see her a few times a year, but it's an annual highlight not only because she thinks I'm awesome ("We have so much in common!" she exclaimed this year and began listing all of our similarities, of which there were many.), but because she offers me a fresh perspective on the world. Children see the world differently, and, because I don't spend much time with them, I'm all the more aware of their unique perspective whenever I'm with them. Kids might be young, but we can learn so much from them. They have an innate wisdom that we adults somehow lose as we age. We might never get again get to be children, but if we listen to them, we just might get the chance to see the world through their eyes. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to do so a few weeks ago... 

Though I'm nearly thirty years old, I cannot cross the warm expanse of a beach without scouring the landscape for seashells. A habit from childhood, my search for shells continues every time my toes touch the sand—and this year I had someone just as interested in hunting for shells as I was. Maggie and I worked diligently, little huntresses stalking side by side, looking for bits of treasure to plop into our plastic bags. We worked our way slowly up and down the beach, and I managed to gather more than just shells: I learned a lesson or two from Maggie as we chatted and hunted and filled our bags with sands and shells. 


1. Think outside the box. While I hunted out of habit (and perhaps a cure for beach boredom), Maggie daydreamed of plans for our shells. She had big plans for her shells: necklaces and charm bracelets, glass jars to be updated each year with new shells, art projects. "This one looks like a tree!" she would exclaim, and I could see it, a little sliver of a shell that I would have thrown back in the sand, did, in fact, look like a tree. "This could be a little hat!" Maggie said, holding a broken shell to the side of her head. While I could probably come up with a few creative ideas if asked, it never would have occurred to me my own to envision shells the way Maggie did. Her creative mind reminded me of the importance of thinking out the box. No matter what you're thinking about—shells, a relationship, work issues—thinking out of the box will only help you find more (and more interesting!) solutions. 


2. Look for unexpected beauty. For me, the purpose of looking for seashells is to find the most perfect, intact, and beautiful shells—shells I would want to frame for their beauty. For Maggie, the purpose of finding shells is just finding shells. She didn't care if they were broken or whole, beautiful or ugly, caked in sand or clean. Maggie thought all the shells were beautiful. With almost every one she picked up came an exclamation of "Look at this one!" followed by a reason why it was so amazing—the color, the shape, the possibility of turning it into something else. And the funny thing was: whatever she found to be amazing about it, I could instantly see as soon as she pointed it out. And, even better, I started to see beauty in shells I never would have looked twice at before, even tucking a few broken ones into my own bag. 


3. Stay where things are good. On the beach there are always little pockets where the shells are plentiful, washed up by the tide in piles just ready for the picking. Maggie and I would come across these with glee, bending repeatedly toward the sand as we found shell after shell. But after a little while, I'd find myself standing and scanning the horizon, wondering what shells might be lying down the beach a few feet away. "Should we keep walking?" I'd say to Maggie, squinting to the left or right in search of the next great shell spot. At one point she looked up at me and said, "But all of the good shells are right here!" And you know what? She was right. Unlike me, who was always looking for the next thing, Maggie was content to stay where things were good. I knelt down in the sand and found a handful of beautiful shells—shells I'd have missed had a moved on. 


4. Know when to go. I could look for shells for hours—maybe even days, if given the chance. I'm a hunter, and the promise of the next perfect shell is just too much for me to resist. Every time I think, maybe it's time to go back to the umbrella..., I spot another glimmer of white in the sand and I'm off, moving down the coast in search of the one shell that's going to change my life. But not Maggie. While she was thoroughly engaged in shell-hunting while doing it, she knew when we'd been at it too long and suggested another activity. When she exclaimed, "Let's bury our feet in the sand!" I realized we'd been hunting for shells for quite a while. I was reminded that, no matter how fun an activity is, one of the things that makes it better is taking a break from it. Absence—even when it comes to shell-hunting—does make the heart grow fonder. 


In just a few hours at the beach, hunting for shells, I learned a lot. And maybe that's the best lesson I learned that day: that life lessons can pop up anywhere—even while on vacation, on the beach, in the middle of hunting for seashells with a seven-year-old. The trick is too keep your eyes and ears open. Just like when you hold a conch shell to your ear in order to listen to the sea, if you listen closely to what's happening around you, you might be surprised by what you might hear.