Tuesday, May 10, 2011

book report: Vital Friends

If you ever read self-help books, you may have noticed that a lot of the better ones have one good idea. Vital Friends

a) describes in depth the fact that people need friends, citing all sorts of studies about how much happier people are when they have friends and (because really, what else matters?) how much more productive they are at work, and

b) discusses how to to appreciate your friends for what they are, rather than trying to make them fill roles that don't come naturally to them. Specifically, it outlines eight roles that friends tend to fill for one another. You aren't going to find someone who fills all eight roles for you.

And that's basically the one good idea.

Rath suggests that a lot of people make the mistake of thinking that a good friend--especially a best friend, or a spouse--should be able to fill all the roles they need. He offers descriptions of what you might not realize you're looking for, and some reasonably concrete suggestions about how to go out and find people to fill those friendship roles for you. He points out that most friendships are reciprocal, but not in the same ways; what you do for your friends is not likely to be the same thing they do for you. He also gives advice on how to strengthen the various types of friendships. Here are the eight in summary:

Builders--motivate you and push you to succeed. They tend to be generous with their time, help you to see your strengths and use them well, and love to see you succeed. To find them, pay attention to people who seem to care about other people's success, and be liberal about asking for advice. To strengthen builder friendships, ask for their kind of help when you need it, give them permission to push you, and make sure that when you succeed they know about it--and know how helpful they were in specific ways.

Champions--stand up for you and speak well of you, whether or not you're around. They tend to have a low tolerance for dishonesty, but they're also willing to accept you as you are and listen to whatever you have to say without judging. When you succeed, they'll be proud of you and tell people about it. To find champion friendships, watch for people who often stand up for others; to build existing champion friendships, let them know when their kind words made it back to you, and confide in them about your mistakes.

Collaborators--are the friends you share important interests with. You might see them less often than other friends, but it can be incredibly valuable to have someone in your life who shares your passion, and strong friendships are often built around this. To strengthen collaborator friendships, be aware of information and opportunities related to your interest, and be sure to pass these on. To find new ones, be open about your interests, and get involved in related events and organizations.

Companions--are the really close friends, who you can rely on in any circumstances; they know you well, and they're the first people you call when something really good or really bad happens. They take pride in the relationship, and are willing to sacrifice for you. Rath suggests strengthening companion friendships by giving gifts that show how well you know them, making a point of spending good time together, and being careful to create an emotional safe space so they can talk about important or difficult topics. To find new companions, look among your relatives and current friendships to see what can be strengthened, and remember that this particular friendship role is mutual.

Connectors--love knowing lots of people, and introducing people to one another. To strengthen a connector friendship, use it--let your connector know when you're looking for a job, a mentor, or whatever. Also make sure they know generally about your plans and goals in life, because they'll naturally keep an eye out for people who will help you achieve those things. To find connectors, keep an eye out for those weird folks who like big parties--and if you're in a new job or social situation, make a point of getting to know the people who seem to know everyone.

Energizers--these are the the ones who can always figure out how to make you laugh. The ones who can make you want to go to Lagoon, even if otherwise it's your idea of hell. They can help you relax, have fun, or break out of a rut. To strengthen your energizer friendships, let them know how their small actions on a day to day basis contribute to your over all happiness. Bring up some of their best stories and jokes and ask for a recounting when you're with a group. To find new ones, spend time with the people who lift your spirits--and make a point of being open to humor and optimism.

Mind Openers--are the friends who encourage you to expand your horizons, to embrace new ideas, opportunities, and experiences. They broaden your perspective on life, and are exactly the people to talk to when you need to challenge conventional wisdom about something. To strengthen mind opener friendships, give yourself time to soak up their perspectives, or ask them to help you out by playing devil's advocate. If you see an especially interesting book or movie, pass it on to create an opportunity for good conversation. To find new ones, go into situations outside your comfort zone, like taking a class in a very different field or going to a cultural event you normally wouldn't consider.

Navigators--are the people you turn to for help making hard decisions, people who you can talk through the pros and cons with, who will "help you see a positive future while keeping things grounded in reality." To strengthen navigator friendships, ask them for advice or stories about their life experiences, or tell them about your own dreams and plans for the future. To find new navigators, ask people you admire to mentor you, and make a point of building friendships with people whose experience and approach to life you respect.


___________________________ said...

What about the 9th category: fuckers? Y'know, the people who seem to only exist to fuck with you despite not being your enemy?

___________________________ said...

Btw, I hear that two good self-help books are Psychological Self-Help by Dr. Clayton Tucker-Ladd: http://www.psychologicalselfhelp.org/download/ and 59 Seconds by Richard Wiseman: http://www.amazon.com/dp/0307273407/ref=nosim?tag=lukeprogcom-20 are good books.

Note: I have not read either book, but instead got them from reviews from a source I trust. http://lesswrong.com/lw/3nn/scientific_selfhelp_the_state_of_our_knowledge/

misssrobin said...

Nice review. Thanks. I remember when I figured out that it wasn't my husband's job to fill every role. What an eye opening moment. I wish someone had told me that sooner.