Friendly Relationships Are Not Friendships

IMG_1411The difference between a friendly relationship and a friendship is easily understood. You and your landlord have a friendly relationship. You and Doug have a friendship. For most people, friendly relationships aren’t hard to come by. They’re everywhere: the mailman, the barista at your local Starbucks, the kid at the Apple Store who tries to explain to you the purpose of the cloud, etc.

But would you call any of them friends? For many people in our mindbogglingly fast-paced age of one-day news cycles and social media, the answer is “Yes.” But I want to ask: are they really your friends? Do you have their phone number? Can you name one of their hobbies? Do you open up to them about your marriage or finances, or they you?

Don’t get me wrong: friendly relationships aren’t to be discounted. Nobody gets more satisfaction than me from somebody’s secretary who issues a “Pip, pip cheerio and a top of the day to you, sir!” each morning. But can you count on her taking your call at any hour of the night?

I don’t doubt that Facebook has contributed to the confusion surrounding what constitutes a friendship. But I also believe that to some extent it is a product of it. For some time before Facebook we would casually refer to someone as “my friend” when she is, in fact, she is no such thing.

I get it, “friend” is just easy to say: “This is my friend Gladys.” What else are you going to say, “This is Gladys with whom I have a friendly relationship”? Of course not. Way too suggestive. But what’s wrong with “This is Gladys. She fits me for all my running shoes,”?

I’m as guilty as anyone of blurring the distinction. In truth, owing largely to my family and career, my circle of true-blue friends has become vanishingly small. And I’m not sanguine about it: I don’t think it’s possible to have too many friends. On the other hand, the difference between having one friend and no friends is immeasurably greater than the difference between having one friend or two friends.

But no matter how many friends you have, never forget the difference between friendship and friendliness and that with only latter you’re subsisting on the icing without the cake.

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It’s Never Too Late To Learn

Face-Palm - Even kids get it.

Face-Palm – Even kids get it.

Have you ever looked at a photo of yourself from as little as five years ago and become amazed and more than a little depressed because of how much younger you looked? Similarly, five years from now you’ll look at a photo of yourself taken this afternoon and think “Man, I looked great!”

If, God willing, I live to be 80 years old, I’ll at photos of myself thirty years from now and think “What I would give the energy and youth of the man in that picture.”

What the point? One is to not be too harsh on yourself. “Slow learner” is not the same as “bad person”. Hold yourself accountable for your actions, by all means, but be humble knowing that better people than you have failed similarly. You are not alone.

But the more important lesson is that act of searching for happiness tends to foster and even induce happiness. This is why the U.S. Constitution says “the pursuit of Happiness” instead of “happiness” – they are two sides of the same coin.

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You Look Better Than You Think

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You look at a photograph of yourself from a decade ago and are startled and depressed by how terrific you looked. At the time the photograph was taken you didn’t realize it – perhaps you we’re feeling old even then – but now you are a little taken aback by how you great you looked. Not even young, necessarily, but fantastic.

Similarly, ten years from now you’ll look at photos of yourself from the present and be flabbergasted at how terrific you look(ed). In twenty years you’ll ache to look as good as you will ten years from now and in thirty years to look as good as you will in twenty.

And so it goes: the present only appreciated through the lens of the future, whether it’s your looks, finances, marital status, health or whatever.

Consider this the next time you’re anxious about the future – or depressed about the present.

Think this is great or that I’m clinically insane? Leave your thoughts, whatever they may be, in the comment section below.

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Happiness Is Hard

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In my home there lives a baby who loves taking a bath but who often must be dragged kicking and screaming to take one. There’s also a boy who eagerly anticipates his reward for completing his homework yet must be goaded into actually doing it. There’s a woman whose mood is boosted by exercise yet sometimes goes days without it. Finally, there’s a man who finds sharing ideas with others enormously gratifying yet often lacks the wherewithal to do just that.

What’s wrong with us?

Our problem  – most people’s problem – is that we think in terms of ease and comfort rather than happiness. Happiness takes an energized body and an engaged mind. Comfort requires only a decent-size sofa.

I know that preparing a new dish for my family will greatly increase my happiness. I know that shopping for the ingredients and working in the kitchen will increase my happiness. But I also know that there’s a yet another frozen pizza in the freezer which can be rendered delicious in less than 20 minutes. And that I can check out my latest Facebook post while I wait.

The next time you consider engaging in any activity, ask yourself “Will it make me happy or will it make me comfortable?”

Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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Eyes On The Prize vs. Bracing For Impact

You know the brace-for-impact posture. You’re driving on a two-way highway at night with a high-profile vehicle barreling toward you. Are you keeping your eyes on your lane? Or do you succumb to the inexplicable urge to look into the oncoming headlights? If so, you’d better hope the vehicle coming the other way isn’t doing the same thing, thereby greatly increasing the chance of a deadly collision. If the pair of eyes keep their eyes on their respective lanes, the sailing is far more likely to be smooth.

So keep your eyes on the prize in everything you do.

When I first got married I used to feel overwhelmed over the number of women around whom I had to “be careful”. How much more nature it feels to simply focus on my wife.Another example is the survey done of WWII pilots who made emergency landings and lived to talk about them. The pilots were asked, among other things, what they were focused on as they made their life-in-the-balance approach. Pilots who executed poor emergency landings tended to answer many different things: trees, water, power line cables. In other words, they were focused on things they were trying to avoid. The pilots who executed well were all focused on the one and same thing: the landing area.

How many times have you seen an NFL running back run toward his own end zone in order to avoid a tackle only to be tackled for a 7-yard loss? Sometimes all you have to do is run forward until something stops you. Prenups are another example. What better way to prepare for a lasting marriage than by simultaneously preparing for divorce?

Thoughts? Comments? Leave them in the section below.

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My Checkered Past

I grew up in the deepest jungles of Brazil. A rebellious teenager, one day I came home from school without the ritualistic bone in my nose. My father was furious and really let me have it: “As long as you’re living in my thatched hut you’ll wear a bone in your nose! We’re having our family picture taken today so take off that ridiculous suit and tie and strap a leaf between your legs. You look ridiculous!”

In college I majored in advertising and soon was able to land a job with a small firm in the heart of the Amazon. It was fun at first, dreaming up winning campaigns for dreamers, mostly smalltime entrepreneurs. But then we landed a big fish – Viagra – and all the creative joy was gone. The couple sitting in bathtubs on the beach sharing a bottle of champagne? That was mine. I was desperate to come up with an idea that would get me fired but nothing seemed beyond the pale as far as Viagra was concerned. I was finally fired after developing a two-page pop-up ad. I exited the building with a severance package that consisted of two weeks’ salary and a piece of biscotti and never looked back.

With my father’s help I landed a job as wine critic for Popular Mechanics magazine. I was utterly unqualified – to this day I am unable to distinguish a red from a white. I did, however, learn to appreciate any wine with possessing notes of buttered toast, an aftertaste of pomegranate and the ability to get me drunk in under 20 minutes.

From there I landed a job at a men’s big-and-tall clothing store. At 5’5″, I was hired, in my bosses’ words, to loiter around the store and “make customers feel big and tall”. A kind and gentle man, he would nonetheless point me out to customers and say “Hey look – Pinoccio is a real boy!” I quit when I realized I was unable to trigger the electronic eye above the urinal in the break room. I tried everything to make that damn thing flush: stand on my toes, wave my arms above my head, jump up and down – the whole shebang. Ultimately I had to ask help from my co-workers: “Hey Bob, would you give me a hand over here? Hey! Where are you going?! Come back – you didn’t wash your hands!”

Most of the jobs I’ve been worth a nickel at tend to exploit my diminutive physique. I’ve been a jockey, a chimney sweep and once, in Cleveland, I was used to prop up the short leg of stool. When times were hard I always found work assembling those sailboats inside the those little bottles.

I was happy just dime dancing around the country. Then I up and married my landlord. That my wife not only continued to charge me rent but refused to replace the squeaky hinge on the screen door was no small source of friction between us. One night, feeling frisky, I was put a move on her in bed and she said “It’s that time of the month”. Given that she was both my landlord and my wife, this was fraught with meaning. But what did it mean? I decided that the safest way to proceed was to give her a thousand bucks in cash and slowly back out of the room. She still writes me every Arbor Day.

It was exhilarating to be single again. For a while there seemed to be sex available around every corner and even, sometimes, at the end of long hallways. In Denver I fell in love with a beautiful prostitute, Helen, whose innate modesty caused her to rebuff my sexual advances “until we’re married”. I thought about paying for it but it was just too degrading. One night we got into a screaming match over the proper use of “suffice” – she insisting that “suffice to say” was correct while I knew from my days in advertising that the correct use is “suffice it to say”. She calls me each year on my birthday, although to this day she stubbornly refuses to acknowledge that I was right.