Saturday, February 10, 2018

Friendship: The Smart Way to Success & Happiness

When I was in high school, I used to do what we called "joint study" with a friend. My friend and I used to study together to prepare for the entrance examinations that we needed to take to get admission into any good professional program. My friend wanted to pursue a career in engineering and I in medicine. Despite our divergent career goals though, we found great value in working together. The subjects of physics and chemistry were common to both the engineering and medical entrance examinations. So it made sense that we studied those subjects together. However, the subject on which we spent the maximum amount of time was math. Math mattered for engineering but not for medical entrance examinations, but the reason we spent most of our time working on math was simply because we both loved the subject. We loved solving math problems, especially the complex calculus ones. We competed with each other on who could solve these problems faster. Sometimes my friend won and sometimes I, but who won anytime was immaterial. What mattered was that we were having more fun competing with each other than either of us had when we worked alone. And this friendly competition also made us stronger and faster in our problem solving skills.

It was not all work for us though. When we were not working, we of course chatted about girls and fantasized about our possible futures. We also played a lot of chess, and deliberated about the books that we were reading at that point of time. We weren't voracious readers by any means. For example, some of my current friends had read all the major works of Shakespeare and Dickens by the time they completed high school. I had read none of these classics, except for the super-abridged versions that appeared in form of chapters in our English textbook. However, I did read some fascinating books during my high school years because, thanks to the excitement with which my friends described them. Some notable books that I read through this process were Mario Puzo's The Godfather, Charles Berlitz's The Bermuda Triangle, Dale Carnegie's How to Win Friends and Influence People, and yes, of course, David Reuben's Everything You Wanted to Know About Sex: But Were Afraid to Ask. Today I am a fairly voracious reader, and a significant credit for this goes to my cool friends who made reading a "cool" hobby to pursue.

With my classmates from high school during a reunion three years ago (The best time I had in recent years)

Another photo from the high school reunion

Self-help guru Jim Rohn once said that we are the average of the five friends we spend most time with. As a social science researcher, I am often critical of the grandiose claims made by self-help gurus. However, there is a lot of truth in Rohn's observation, if not in the absolute literal sense, because whether we are the average of our five closest friends is an empirical question that Rohn never performed. However, there are innumerable studies in social psychology and organizational behavior demonstrating how strongly we are influenced by the environment we live in, and more specifically by the people we interact with on a regular basis. Our individual levels of knowledge, health, wealth, success and happiness are all deeply intertwined with how our closest friends fair on these parameters.

Dancing with friends from undergraduate days
With my classmates from undergraduate days and the head of our institution

Based on the insights I have gained through my personal experiences and research, I have come to the conclusion that there are two ways of living life: the hard way and the easy way. The hard way is the one we take when we try to build a good habit all by ourselves. It is the method where we rely on our willpower to better ourselves and accomplish a goal. But this is the hard way, because even the strongest among us falter when it comes to our willpower. If you don't believe me, just look back at the number of times you failed in sticking to your New Year's resolutions.

With my Masters degree buddies

So what is the easy way? The easy way is the one we take with our friends. We truly are the company we keep. It may be difficult to pull ourselves out of bed every morning and run for 10 kilometers when we do it all by ourselves, but it is 1000% easier when we do the same with a friend. It is difficult to push ourselves to the limit when we are training by ourselves, but it is easy when we have a friend competing with us. It is difficult to sustain your interest in a hobby when you are doing it by yourself, but it is easy as a breeze when you share that interest with a friend. It is easy to be successful when you have friends to inspire you, push you and learn from.

My classmates and running buddies during PhD

With my music friends during PhD

According to studies conducted by Gallup Inc., at the workplace we are significantly more engaged, productive, happy, and contribute to higher profits for the organization when we work with people we consider close friends. Friendship even makes marriages happier. According to John Gottman, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of Washington, " Happy marriages are based on a deep friendship." The research done by Gottman and his colleagues show that friendship within marriage is five times more strongly associated with happiness in marriage than physical intimacy within marriage.

We all want to be successful and happy in our lives. I have never met a person who wants otherwise. However, foolishly we try to attain these things the hard way. Is it surprising then that we never come close to realizing our full potential? When I reflect back on my life, I certainly have found it easy to achieve things when I worked for them along with my friends. We all get excited at the beginning of our endeavors, but as time passes we find it very difficult to sustain motivation. Friends make it easy to sustain motivation. Let's make use of our friends to enrich each other's lives. Let's choose our friends wisely. And let's nurture these friendships. That is the smartest way to achieving success and happiness in life.

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