By Sondra Whitt
Henri Nouwen, a Dutch-born Catholic priest, author, and teacher wrote over 40 books on the spiritual life. Among the spiritual values he dedicated his life to living and teaching was that of friendship and community. “When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives means the most us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving much advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a gentle and tender hand” he wrote. “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.” Romans 12:15 adds an encouragement to “rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.” Whether we’re weeping or rejoicing, a true friend is right there with us, sharing the pain or the joy.
When I was meeting with a group of women recently, we started talking about how some friendships can be so uplifting and fun while others can drag us down to the depths of despair. One of the ladies in the group told about a woman she’s been friends with for over 30 years. They’ve had some good times together in the past but now their friendship consists of this woman calling my friend just to gripe and complain about everything that’s wrong in her life. There’s never anything positive and she doesn’t want to hear about my friend’s problems or her joys. It’s strictly a one-way street. My friend has realized that it’s no longer healthy when, after a conversation with this woman, she’s left feeling drained and depressed. What used to be a friendship has now become a toxic relationship instead.
Our conversation about friendships reminded me of something Marci Shimoff wrote in her book, Happy for No Reason, “Science has shown that everything in the universe, including you, is composed of energy. Everything you say, think, or do, everything you’re around, either expands your energy or contracts it. When your energy expands, you experience greater happiness; when your energy contracts, you experience less happiness.” So it just makes sense to avoid people who “contract” or drain our energy and spend more time with those who “expand” it.
Tom Rath and Donald O. Clifton described it another way in How Full is Your Bucket? They wrote about the invisible buckets we all carry around that are either being filled or emptied, depending on what others do or say to us. We also have an invisible dipper that we use to fill other people’s buckets when we “increase their positive emotions” by things we say and do — or dip out of their bucket when we decrease their positive emotions. And the bonus for us is that when we increase their positive emotions, we also fill our own bucket. Just as when we decrease their positive emotions, we hurt ourselves. “Like the cup that runneth over,” writes Rath, “a full bucket gives us a positive outlook and renewed energy. Every drop in that bucket makes us stronger and more optimistic.” Or, as Shimoff would say — it expands us, increases our energy, and raises our happiness level.
As we make an effort to fill buckets and raise happiness levels, here are some quotes to keep in mind: “A friend accepts us as we are yet helps us to be what we should.” Since I was called a good egg recently, I was glad to see this one: “A true friend is one who thinks you are a good egg even if you are half-cracked.” And here’s a good one by Laurence J. Peter: “You can always tell a real friend: when you’ve made a fool of yourself he doesn’t feel you’ve done a permanent job.”