Happiness in Friendship
By Laura Niver
I moved to Denver a little over a year ago. When I moved here, I knew exactly one person—my brother. On the friend front, I was basically starting from scratch. This past year has made me think a lot about friendship. As I meet new people, form new friendships, and continue to cultivate my relationships with old friends, I’ve been thinking about what happens in friendship that is so satisfying, why it’s part of what makes us happy. A big part of it is sharing emotional experiences.
Think of your good friends. What you love, and sometimes hate, is that in a really good, connected friendship you experience life as the other experiences it. You begin to understand how your friend sees the world, how she makes sense of it, and how that impacts her. She can understand how you feel, and vice versa.
As I’ve been thinking about developing new friendships and deepening old ones, three things come to mind that seem to be central to forming meaningful connections with others. I’ll call them stances, because they are not techniques but more like sensibilities that we can develop over time.
Listen for the emotional experience behind the story. The details are important but what is more meaningful to someone is if you really get them. And getting someone has a lot to do with understanding how they are feeling emotionally.
Reflect those emotions. Notice when your friend is telling you about her conversation with her mom if she feels frustrated, excited, annoyed, hurt, or happy and articulate for her how she must be feeling.
Be curious. Sometimes we jump to advice or we want to talk about our own stuff. Instead be curious. Listen. Ask more questions to understand how your friend feels. Even if you have a pretty strong opinion about some decision your friend has made, take a step back and try to understand with her how she made that decision.
Try to attune to how your friend is feeling. You won’t be perfectly attuned to your friend all of the time, and part of being a friend is expressing your own needs. And paying attention to the emotional experience as they share details or stories from a day goes a long way to giving that person confidence, conveying to them that you understand and accept them. And you get a friend who will do the same for you, reflect your world back to you, be a sounding board, and enhance the quality of your life.
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About the Author: Laura Niver, currently a doctoral student of clinical psychology at the University of Denver, is fascinated by the way childhood continues to affect us throughout our lives. Prior to moving to Denver for graduate school, she lived in Washington, DC and worked in Congress and at a public policy research institute. She loves living in Denver where, for her, happiness is a lot easier to pursue with 300 days of sunshine a year!