“Between friends, there is no need for justice, but people who just still need the quality of friendship… It is not only a necessary thing but a splendid one.” –Aristotle
Friendship is an often-overlooked aspect of social anxiety. Questions such as “how do I make friends?”, “how do I know if he/she is a true friend?”, and “should I keep my current friends?” plagued my consciousness for many years. It seems rather paradoxical that friendship – an aspect of human nature that brings joy and happiness to one’s life – can be the cause of so much anxiety. But, this, unfortunately, the case for many people across the world.
Thankfully, our good friend Aristotle had an interesting take on friendship that presents one possible answer to these questions and all the anxiety induced by friendship.
He classified friendship into three separate categories, and by using these categories we can analyze our own social life and forge friendships that bring true happiness instead of anxiety.
1. The Friendship of Utility
These friendships are based on mutual gain between two parties. For example, a relationship between work associates or business partners. Generally, these friendships do not last long because the friendship will dissolve once the utility is exhausted. Overall, these friendships tend to be weak, and not genuinely fulfilling.
2. Pleasure or Accidental
The pleasure-based friendship. These types of friendships have an emotional origin such as similar interests or circumstances. Examples include people in the same college and fans of similar sports teams. These types of friendships do not last very long because our interests and circumstances usually change over time.
In other words, these friendships may be pleasurable, but they are not exactly the most fulfilling because they are not based on a deep understanding and appreciation of the other person.
3. “Good” Friendships
The third category is what Aristotle calls the friendship of the good. These friendships are based on the mutual appreciation of the virtues that the other person holds dear. In other words, you’ve built a genuine relationship with the person that is not based on simple utility or the appreciation of temporary interests.
However, keep in mind that these friendships do include the benefits of both utility and pleasure-based friendships as well. In a friendship of the good, you truly appreciate the person for who they are, as they do you. These friendships take time and mutual effort to grow, but they are the most long-lasting and most genuinely fulfilling.
What Now? Armed with this information we can begin to dissect our own friendships. Here’s the process I went through:
1. I created an Excel spreadsheet with each category of friendship: Utility, Pleasure, and Good.
2. Next, I organized my friends into these categories. Many friends from college or high
school, for example, were placed in the Pleasure category. The Utility category, on the other hand, was filled mostly with work associates. I was happily surprised, however, to find a good number of friends in the Good category. 3. At this point, I carefully considered each friend that I placed the Utility and Pleasure
categories, and which of them I wanted to move up to the Good category. With some of these friends, it became abundantly clear that we would never share a friendship of the Good. But with others, I realized that the only thing stopping our friendship from blossoming into something great was a lack of effort. 4. Finally, I moved all the friends that I wanted to share a friendship of the Good with
into a separate category labeled “Needs Improvement.” I proceeded to visit (or call if we were not in the same city) each of them to catch up. I’ve made a concerted effort to keep in contact with these friends and actively move our relationship to the next level.
Now, it’s true that not all my “Needs Improvement” friends will ultimately blossom into friendships of the Good. However, I feel much more fulfilled and happier knowing that I’m making the effort. Moreover, I feel much less anxious about my friendships because I have a clear and organized way to think about them. They are no longer a nebulous entity that can hurt or help me at their choosing. Rather, my friendships bring me great happiness because I know which of my friends are truly “Good”, which ones I want to keep in my life forever.
That’s All Ultimately, friendship should bring you pleasure and happiness, not anxiety. All three of Aristotle’s’ categories of friendship are valuable, and much depends on context. But, the friendship that matters the most, and the one that is going to bring you the most joy in your life, is ultimately the friendship of the good.