Debating current affairs

Paul Thomas is a Weekend Herald columnist

Paul Thomas: A friend indeed is what we all need

By Paul Thomas

Happiness industry has it sorted here's your cool-mates list.

Friends can help you meet some really cool people, but some can be bad for your health. Photo / Supplied
Friends can help you meet some really cool people, but some can be bad for your health. Photo / Supplied

Did you know that having friends is like eating? Both are essential to our well-being, but having the wrong mix of friends can be as bad for us as an unhealthy diet.

According to the happiness industry, having the full range of friend types is like having a balanced diet as opposed to bingeing on one or two food groups. It's simply better for us.

A columnist on an Australian news website has gone to the trouble of identifying the six types of friend we must have. She was assisted in this endeavour by the founder of the Positivity Institute, the aim of which is to "create flourishing lives and increase the well-being of the world! In our trade this is known as a BHAG - a big, hairy, audacious goal!" (Positive thinkers love exclamation marks; they're so upbeat.)

She also had input from the author of one of the many books that claim to reveal the 10 steps to happiness. For the authors and publishers of this tripe, there is only one step to happiness: people being silly enough to buy the book.

This particular author is "absolutely passionate about real success". Leaving aside the tautology - try being slightly passionate and see where it gets you - this is about as meaningful as being against cancer.

Now that you have adjusted your expectations, let's find out what sorts of friend we have to have.

The friend who is cooler than you: "We like to be around these people because they're a beacon of cool ... and have a flow-on effect of introducing you to other cool people."

Oh dear. Any lingering hopes that this exercise wouldn't be as shallow as a birdbath just went out the window.

Cool is difficult to define. Suffice to say that if you think you are cool, you're not, and if you yearn to be cool, you never will be. That's just the way it is. Perhaps the only thing more ridiculous than trying to be cool is trying to be cool vicariously by hanging out with cool people.

The friend who is up for anything: "Everyone needs a friend who you can call on at the drop of a hat. It's good to have a mate who you don't have to issue a 28-day notice just to meet for a frappuccino."

Friends like this are retired or unemployed. Anyone who is neither of those but is available at the drop of a hat is almost certainly a stalker.

The friend you aspire to be: "These people challenge you to be the best version of yourself."

Your children do that, not your friends. And if you're making friends with people because you aspire to be just like them, then you're almost certainly a stalker.

The friend who doesn't know any of your other friends: "It will be easier to share your hopes and fears knowing they are not going to be discussed when you're not around."

This sounds a little too much like the friend you keep chained up in a windowless basement cell which you built by torchlight with your bare hands and without planning permission. Which seems a rather extreme solution to the problem of feeling unable to confide in anyone in case they betray your confidences.

It also indicates an alarming ignorance of human nature. We all know a secret is what you tell one other person. And what are friends meant to talk about if not absent friends?

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde, the only thing worse than being talked about behind your back is not being talked about behind your back.

The friend who is painfully honest: "A pearl who will tell it to you straight when others won't ... with good intentions and for your own benefit."

Ah yes, brutal honesty, one of the most over-rated things in the world. When people speak approvingly of brutal honesty, there's an assumption that because it's brutal, it must be valid. In my experience, people who make a habit of telling others exactly what they think aren't very good at thinking.

That's doubly true for people who think they know what's good for us better than we do.

The friend who has known you longer than you've known yourself: "This is the friend you never have to put on a brave face for. They know you better than you know yourself and accept you unconditionally."

This is the friend who smuggles you out of the country in their carry-on luggage after you've dismembered your de facto and fed his/her body parts to pigs. In law they are known as accessories after the fact.

- NZ Herald

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