Enjoying Friends | Walking in Flow


“Compared to familial relationships, friendships are much easier to enjoy. We can choose our friends, and usually do so, on the basis of common interests and complementary goals. We need not change ourselves to be with friends; they reinforce our sense of self instead of trying to transform it. While at home there are many boring things we have to accept, like taking out the garbage and raking up leaves, with friends we can concentrate on things that are ‘fun.’ (185)


“Because a friendship usually involves common goals and common activities, it is ‘naturally’ enjoyable. But like any other activity, this relationship can take a variety of forms, ranging from the destructive to the highly complex. When a friendship is primarily a way of validating one's own insecure sense of self, it will give pleasure, but it will not be enjoyable in our sense--that of fostering growth. For instance: [drinking buddies] . . . This type of interaction keeps at bay the disorganization that solitude brings to the passive mind, but without stimulating much growth. It is rather like a collective form of television watching, and although it is more complex in that it requires participation, its actions and phrases tend to be rigidly scripted and highly predictable.


Socializing of this kind mimics friendship relations, but it provides few of the benefits of the real thing. Everyone takes pleasure in occasionally passing the time of day chatting, but may people become extremely dependent on a daily ‘fix’ of superficial contacts. This is especially true for individuals who cannot tolerate solitude, and who have little emotional support at home. Teenagers without strong family ties can become so dependent on their peer group that they will do anything to be accepted by it. … If the young person feels accepted and cared for at home, however, dependence on the group is lessened, and the teenager can learn to be in control of his relationships with peers.” (186-187)


“The company of peers, like every other activity, can be experienced at various levels: at the lowest level of complexity it is a pleasurable way to ward off chaos temporarily; at the highest it provides a strong sense of enjoyment and growth. It is in the context of intimate friendships, however, that the most intense experiences occur. . . . To enjoy such one to one relationships requires the same conditions that are present in other flow activities. It is necessary not only to have common goals and to provide reciprocal feedback, which even interactions in taverns or at cocktail parties provide, but also to find new challenges in each other’s company. … There are few things as enjoyable as freely sharing one’s most secret feelings and thoughts with another person. Even though this sounds like a commonplace, it in fact requires concentrated attention, openness, and sensitivity. In practice, this degree of investment of psychic energy in a friendship is unfortunately rare. Few are willing to commit the energy or the time for it.” (187-188)


“Friendship allow us to express parts of our beings that we seldom have the opportunity to act out otherwise. One way to describe the skills that every man and woman has is to divide them into two classes: the instrumental and the expressive. Instrumental skills are the ones we learn so that we can cope effectively with the environment. . . . People who have not learned to find flow in most of the things they undertake generally experience instrumental tasks as extrinsic--because they do not reflect their own choices, but are requirements imposed from the outside. Expressive skills, on the other hand, refer to actions that attempt to externalize our subjective experiences…. When involved in an expressive activity we feel in touch with our real self. A person who lives only by instrumental actions without experiencing the spontaneous flow of expressivity eventually becomes indistinguishable from a robot who has been programmed by aliens to mimic human behavior.


In the course of normal life there are few opportunities to experience the feeling of wholeness expressivity provides. … It is only with friends that most people feel they can let their hair down and be themselves. … It is in the company of friends that we can most clearly experience the freedom of the self and learn who we really are.” (188-189)


“Friendship is not enjoyable unless we take up its expressive challenges. If a person surrounds himself with “friends” who simply reaffirm his public persona, who never question his dreams and desires, who never force him to try out new ways of being, he misses out on the opportunities friendship presents. A true friend is someone we can occasionally be crazy with, someone who does not expect us to be always true to form. It is someone who shares our goal of self-realization, and therefore is willing to share the risks that any increase in complexity entails.” (189)


“Unfortunately, few people nowadays are able to maintain friendships into adulthood, We are too mobile, too specialized and narrow in our professional interests to cultivate enduring relationships. We are lucky if we can hold a family together, let alone maintain a circle of friends. …[But] just as with the family, people believe that friendships happen naturally, and if they fail, there is nothing to be done about it but feel sorry for oneself. In adolescence, when so many interests are shared with others and one has great stretches of free time to invest in a relationship, making friends might seem like a spontaneous process. But later in life friendships rarely happen by chance: one must cultivate them as assiduously as one must cultivate a job or a family.” (189-190)



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