One of my favorite topics is the power of change and how committing to personal growth will lead to a life of happiness. I have witnessed it in my own life, and it is one thing we all have in common. It is, quite literally, built into our systems. We’re designed to change.
Every one of us has the instinct to seek, to experience something new, to explore. As we do, we grow and change and what we seek changes along the way as well. The woman who longed to be a mother will seek something new once her last child is out of the house. We are always gently led in the direction of our highest self. As the kabbalists teach: the process is the purpose, not the destination.
Outside of our natural inner pull toward change, the second most influential factor in determining our evolution—for better or worse—are the people we surround ourselves with. The degree to which we live the life of our dreams is in direct relation to the friends that we choose and science backs this up.
There is a breadth of research showing that people with supportive friends are less stressed and are physically healthier. A recent study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences re-affirmed that strong social connections often increase people’s lifespan. Researchers found that people who feel lonely or rejected were most likely to take the biggest financial risks.
In 2014, the Journal of Consumer Research published a study that found that friends often bond by helping each other resist a temptation such as a toxic relationship or unhealthy eating habits. However, the same is true is of bad behavior. When it came to resisting temptations—like eating chocolate—sometimes friends were more likely to become partners in crime as they decided to indulge together.
Our friendships influence every aspect of our life from romantic relationships to the food we eat to how we spend our time and our money. You’d think this would equate to us being discerning about who we keep close to us. Yet, this is something we often have to learn the hard way about who is a good friend and who isn’t. A surefire way to find out if you’re choosing quality friends is to take a step in the direction of personal growth. Do they share in your enthusiasm? Or do they criticize and judge you?
Maria Mitchell, a pioneering astronomer, wrote extensively about balanced relationships in her diary which was compiled into the book Maria Mitchell: A Life in Journals and Letters. She wrote: “Whatever our degree of friends may be, we come more under their influence than we are aware.” It is an idea that has been echoed by kabbalists, thought leaders, artists, and writers; from Seneca to Vincent Van Gogh, our relationships co-create us. They refine us. They assist in our growth, or they work to hinder.
We, quite literally, become either more of ourselves or less of ourselves depending on who we surround ourselves with. Our choice of relationships can either reinforce our limiting beliefs and thought patterns or decondition them by helping us learn new patterns of attachment. They also encourage us to step outside of our comfort zone and champion our talents. I found this to be true in my life’s closest friendship; the friendship I have with my husband. He brought out things in me that I didn’t yet see in myself, and encouraged these parts of me to grow. And vice versa.
How can we tell who is for our growth and who wishes us to stay the same? Start by looking at how you feel when you’re around them.
When you express excitement about something, does your friend share your excitement, or do they undercut your enthusiasm? It can be tricky to tell, especially if your friend’s criticism is disguised as practicality. If you feel anything other than support from people around you when you’re in joy, it may be time to rethink that friendship. Think about what it is that you get from that connection. It doesn’t mean you need to “break-up” with them, it can simply mean they aren’t the ones to go with your ideas for expansion.
Another study out of Harvard shows that the people you habitually associate with determine as much as 95% of your success or failure in life. Author and motivational speaker Jim Rohn has stated that “you are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” If we want to lead a positive, successful life, we need to surround ourselves with people who share that goal or are actively living that life. And the closer those friends are, the better. Social media connections, as it turns out, don’t count. (A report from the University of Edinburgh Business School says that more Facebook friends equal more stress. Researchers linked an abundance of social media connections to increased anxiety.)
So, if we are under the influence of those we surround ourselves within our real life, ask yourself who it is you’re choosing. Do your friends possess qualities that you wish to emulate? Does your social circle inspire you to be your best? Do the people around you live lives that light you up and make you ask for more out of yours? Conversely, do you find the people in your life to be in constant states of drama, do have a friend that continually wants to gossip, or is your friend group judgmental or unkind to others? Take stock of the qualities in the people you choose to be around and ask if they qualities that you would feel proud of in yourself.
The kabbalists teach that our friendships not only assist us in our spiritual growth but that they are the source of it. Friendships teach us to share, they give us countless opportunities to practice unconditional love, and they enhance our joy. Friendships are a mirror of all of our best qualities and a place where we can learn what we still need to work on.
If you can create relationships with people who you admire and feel your best with, you’re on a sure path to mutual respect and success. These are the types of friends who support us at our best and are there just as fiercely when we’re at our worst. They honor our boundaries, offer us compassionate feedback, and celebrate us both for who we are and who we can be.
And if you can’t think of any friends like this in your life; then start by being this friend for someone else.
THOUGHT INTO ACTION
Who are the friends who support and challenge you? Let them know how much you appreciate them.