Friendship: Man's Greatest Joy

By Catherine Salgado on August 18, 2019

Every kid’s show and movie touts the magic of friendship. No superhero is considered great without a sidekick or a team. Going into a restaurant or college cafeteria, practically every person is on his phone texting somebody or showing a funny meme or video to somebody sitting next to him. Every college dorm has a common room, many travel sites automatically input “2” for the number of people traveling, and little girls love to exchange friendship bracelets. Almost no one would deny that friendship is one of the most important elements in any person’s life, but how many people even know what true friendship really is? Can we define it? Can we recognize it? Can we achieve it?

When you want to know the answer to something, go to the experts in that field. The great thinkers of human history have said a great deal about friendship. Aristotle treats friendship as the height of human happiness at the end of his Ethics, and speaks of the extraordinary unity created by friendship; “What is a friend? A single soul dwelling in two bodies.” Cicero, in his treatise devoted to friendship (De Amicitia), defines friendship as a complete sympathy in all matters of importance, with the necessary elements of goodwill, affection, and virtue. “In this world,” Augustine of Hippo states in a sermon, “two things are essential: life and friendship.” Among the three pleasures which he deems advantageous, Confucius praises the “pleasure in having many wise friends.”

“There is nothing on this earth more to be prized than true friendship,” Thomas Aquinas proclaims. “There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends,” Jane Austen’s Marianne declares in Sense and Sensibility. “I am a success today because I had a friend who believed in me,” Abe Lincoln asserts. “In prosperity, our friends know us. In adversity, we know our friends,” G.K. Chesterton says, noting the necessity of friends to survive hardships.

Aristotle speaks of three kinds of friendship—they are as applicable today as they were more than 2,000 years ago. There are friendships of pleasure, of utility, or of the good (also called true or virtuous friendship). Many friendships have a mixture of these three, and there are very few of the third category. Friendships of pleasure are established because the participants receive certain pleasures from each other—these tend to be impermanent, because as soon as the pleasure is gone, so is the friendship. Friendships of utility exist between those who receive certain benefits, goods, or services from each other—often these are business relationships or the friendly attitude you might have toward your barista.

Friendships of the good, however, are, as Cicero and Aquinas would say, the height of happiness for man. While both differ somewhat on exactly why such friendships are the height of happiness (Aquinas would say friendship with God is the best–and, indeed, the end purpose of each man–while Cicero speaks merely of friendship between men), both agree that only by becoming close spiritually, physically, and intellectually with a virtuous, sensible, honest, and interesting person can anyone be truly happy. True friends aid you in your troubles, rejoice at your happiness, advise you, love you, and spend a lot of time with you. Money, fame, and success are alike meaningless, as Cicero notes, unless you have such a one to share them with.

Obviously, such friendships are a work of many years—as George Washington puts it, “True friendship is a plant of slow growth”–but having these things in mind every day is helpful. Look for people in your group of acquaintances, both of your own sex (which is very important) and of the opposite sex, who share your values and your interests, and who are more virtuous than you. You are not simply friends because you spend time with someone (though that is essential), but because you two (or three or four) share a deep connection among your souls, which expresses itself in many ways.

Spend time and effort getting to know that person. Invite the person to your house to meet your family and spend time talking with or doing other activities with him. Make sure that the person is someone you admire, someone you could see yourself spending the rest of your life getting to know. Make sure that person wants to help you become better, and try to help your friend become better, as well. Don’t just do fun things together—go to church together or volunteer at the soup kitchen.

You may be surprised when you finally find a person who meets these criteria. I had a very close and immensely valuable friend who was decades older than I while I was in high school—friendships such as these can be had with people from a wide variety of ages, backgrounds, and locations. Sometimes your best friend may even be a family member (yes, even your parent!).

Don’t focus on one or two people to the exclusion of others—having a wide group of friends and acquaintances is wonderful—but make a habit of not telling all your secrets to or implicitly trusting in every single person you know.

Whomever that true friend is, cherish him! And if you are fortunate enough to have many people in your life who fit into all three categories of friendship, cherish them too. Friendship is the greatest blessing anyone can receive!

Hi! I am a rising junior at Christendom College double majoring in Classics (Classical Languages) and Theology. I am the eldest child in a family of five kids and was homeschooled all the way up until I went to college. My hobbies include writing novels and articles, reading, knitting, drawing, playing piano and ukulele, and making jewelry. Post graduation, I hope to become a full-time journalist.

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