This is the sixth of 10 posts I’m writing about how to combine gratitude and compassion for a happier life. Why? Well, according to Dr Amit Sood of the Mayo Clinic:
“Because of the way your brain works, the pursuit of gratitude and compassion will make you happier than the pursuit of happiness itself.”
This insight has really made me think about so many aspects of my life.
How can I implement this in practice to turbo-power my happiness? I think it’s worth exploring…
So, I’ve come up with a simple 4-part framework for combining gratitude and compassion, and I’m sharing how to do that using 10 different examples in 10 posts. In each post I focus on a different area of gratitude as a jumping off point.
This week my gratitude reference point is Old Friends.
I’m grateful for ALL my friends… AND there’s something very special about old friends.
Those old friendships have had more time to mellow and mature. Like a fine wine. There’s more depth, more richness. We are more certain of each other.
There’s no question of trying to keep up appearances. Oh no. That ship sailed a loooong time ago. My old friends know about my best features, and my worst. And they love me warts and all.
We have history… and we have some serious dirt on each other! Funny stories. Battle scars. Embarrassing photographic evidence.
Recently I had some old friends come and stay with me. It was wonderful. A deeply relaxed way of being and relating set in.
I know that they understand me so well. I know that they love me for who I am. I know that the friendship is solid… I don’t have to be on my best behaviour. I don’t have have to worry about offending them with my political views, or saying the wrong thing, or overstepping some line that I don’t even know is there (which can happen when I don’t know someone that well).
I know their quirks and they know mine. I feel comfortable with them and they’re easy to be with.
I like the ‘fine wine’ analogy… because when a friendship is a good quality one then it gets better with age, just like a really good wine does. But if the friendship was always a bit shallow or shaky, then you may find it turns to vinegar instead as the years wear on.
With my really good old friends, even if we haven’t spoken for many months it doesn’t matter. We just pick up where we left off. And if I’m in a jam and I need someone to come and bust me out of jail (like with the wine, I speak in metaphors here…) my old friends are usually the ones I turn to.
So GRATEFUL for all my old friends! You know who you are…
Not all of us have as many friends as we’d like. And as we get older, it can seem harder to make new friends.
Also, as life takes different courses for people, our old friends may move away so we don’t get to see them as much. Or maybe we’re the ones who move away.
I’ve moved around fair bit in my life, so that means a lot of my friends are distributed around the globe. Skype and Facebook are wonderful tools for keeping in touch with people, thankfully, and yet nothing is as good as being in the same room with friends enjoying a chat and some laughter. I do wish I could see some of my old friends more often.
As we get older, we may have to face what it’s like to start losing our friends. I feel so much compassion for people who have lost good friends, or even just lost touch with them and drifted apart. I feel compassion for people who feel lonely and isolated, and who feel they don’t have enough friends anymore but don’t know how to change that.
Contemplating this makes me want to reach out to the wonderful friends I have and let them know how much they mean to me. How much they enrich my life. It makes me want to cherish every moment we have together, cherish every great conversation, and remember all of the happy memories and good times we’ve shared.
Every friendship is precious.
This is based on a Buddhist practice called Metta. It involves imagining sending ‘loving kindness’. What’s that? I imagine it to be like the feeling you get from a loving, nurturing hug.
Firstly, for all the times in my life that I’ve let my friends down, or not been there for them when they needed me, I send loving kindness to myself. And, for all the times that I felt too busy or preoccupied to stay in touch or spend time nurturing friendships (both new and old), I send loving kindness to myself.
(The practice of compassion always begins with the self. If we can’t practice self-compassion then it’s going to be very hard for us to have compassion for others.)
Secondly, for all the people I love, respect, and admire… I send them loving kindness for all the times they feel distanced from friends. Or when they’ve lost a special friend. They may be struggling in this way without me knowing it. I send them loving kindness.
Thirdly, for all the people I don’t even know who may be struggling in this way… I send loving kindness. For all the people I do know but don’t have much of a relationship with, who may also be struggling with this… I send loving kindness.
Fourthly, for all the people I know who actually irritate me, or people that I’m currently having issues with who may also be feeling lonely, isolated or missing their friends… I send them loving kindness.
What can I do this week to put it into action? How can I express my gratitude for being blessed with some wonderful long-term friendships, while at the same time practice compassion for myself and others who sometimes struggle to maintain connection or who have lost some beloved friends along the way?
This week, I pledge to reach out to at least one old friend that I haven’t spoken to or emailed in a while and reconnect.
I also pledge to cultivate some new friendships, and to be open to forming new attachments. Because old friendships are born from new friendships that have had time to mature, aren’t they? And there’s still time (I hope!) for more of that in my life.
I’ve actually been making a conscious effort to do this for the past few months. I recently joined a book-club in my local area so that I can meet like-minded people through a common interest. And I’ve started walking once a week with a new friend who seems like a really interesting person that I want to get to know better. I’ve also started inviting people around for dinner more regularly. People I know, but maybe not that well yet. There’s something special about breaking bread together I feel, and not being someone who’s big on hanging out at bars or drinking, it’s my favourite way to get to know people.
Life is better when it’s shared.
Working in the compassion piece, I especially would look to connect with people who’ve moved around like I have, so they may not have that many friends locally. And in everyday life, I’ll be making more of an effort to have conversations with people that I randomly meet while out and about. Like at the bus stop. Or at the fish shop. Or chatting to my taxi (or uber) driver. You never know when a simple friendly chat, or even just a few smiling words, will brighten someone’s day and help them to feel more connected and less lonely.
What can you do to combine gratitude and compassion this week?
Let me know in the comments if this post has helped you!
To YOUR Abundance,
Julie Ann Cairns