According to many experts, including Robert Putnam, the celebrated author of  Bowling Alone, close friendships are becoming rarer. Social bonds, the hidden glue that binds our communities, are becoming weaker. It is perhaps no coincidence that a depression epidemic is now sweeping the industrialized world. We are becoming too busy, too hooked up to electronic gizmos, or too self absorbed, to make or keep friends.

So how can we make new friends? Or form deeper friendships?


According to a ton of scientific evidence, friendships and family relationships are some of the greatest sources of happiness.

The great philosophical and political thinker Aristotle split friendships into three types, based on the motive for forming them: friendships of utility, friendships of pleasure and friendships of the good.   Modern psychology is coming to the same conclusion: Friendships based on unconditional love, ( friendships of the good) have a powerful effect on the well being of both parties.

It’s OK if your friendship is still stuck in stage one or two, ie  “I’ll buy you lunch if you give me a hand with my homework (stage one, utility)  and “Let’s hang out. You seem so popular and you make me laugh. ” (stage two, pleasure).  But stage three (I love you because you are who you are. I trust you and will stick with you through thick and thin) is way more fulfilling. That sort of relationship simply leaves you feeling great. Aristotle thought the third kind of friendship could take years to build, after you waded through stages one and two. It could still include utility and pleasure, but the driving force was unconditional love.

Friendships based on utility usually don’t last long because they disintegrate once the “usefulness” of a friend is no longer needed (the genius who got you an A in math was a little boring and liked expensive meals).

Friendships based on pleasure can last longer, but total trust is still lacking, and if you get into trouble or run out of jokes  the “friend” could easily walk away.

Some people are lucky enough, or loving enough, to transcend utility and pleasure (though these benefits are often still enjoyed) and walk straight into close encounters of the third kind. But according to Aristotle these relationships can take years. They usually take a lot of “work,” ie mutual sacrifice and the significant self control needed not to divulge secrets and break trust. And yet the “payoff” is huge.   These “friendships of the good” or “virtuous friendships” fill us with a deeper sense of happiness as we realize that someone loves us for who we are, not for what we do, and will stick around no matter how poor or ugly we get.

In conclusion, it’s not complicated. Close friendships don’t come free. But we can cut corners. One of the short cuts to genuine friendship is plain old kindness, which leads to the next “habit of happy people,” caring.