The first book I remember reading on my own was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. I have a distinct memory of being so captivated by it that I refused to respond to my mom’s calls for dinner. Another series that bewitched me some years later was the Lord of the Rings. I know I’m not alone in having these texts be such important touchstones of my youth.
A few years ago, I was so delighted to find out that the authors of these books, C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien, were also the best of friends. In 1926, one year after Tolkien began teaching at Oxford, he met Lewis during a faculty meeting. They soon bonded over their shared passion for mythology. They agreed that science fiction and fantasy books were not what they could be — and set out to write their own. This mutual encouragement gifted us with two of the greatest stories the world has ever seen.
Both credit their friendship with being essential to the development of their creations. Tolkien shared an early draft of a Middle Earth story with Lewis, who encouraged him to keep writing. Lewis experienced a crisis of faith and turned to Tolkien, who encouraged him to bring these themes to his stories, leading to the world of Narnia.
We all need a friend or two like this. As Lewis himself articulated, “Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself… It has no survival value; rather it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Thousands of years ago, Aristotle defined three types of friendship.
- Friendship for pleasure (two people go to the bar to have fun)
- Friendship for utility (two people with complementary skills work to achieve a project)
- Friendship for virtue (two people help one another become their best selves and develop their souls)
By all accounts, Tolkien and Lewis loved to drink at the bar together. And I’m sure they also offered one another some level of utilitarian support. But by all accounts, they were mostly soul friends: encouraging one another to dig deep into their imagination and to persevere in turning it into literary genius.
Scientific research tells us that true friends are essential to our well-being. Intimate friendships erect a protective bubble around us, buffering us from the negative effect of stress. People who have close friendships have better psychological and physical well-being. And some researchers even argue that the single most important factor to living a good life is the quality of our friendships.
How to find your soul friends
Here is my little known secret to finding your soul friends: if you want to have one, you can start by being one!
We are wired to mirror the behavior of others. And we naturally want to reciprocate what we receive. You can sometimes transform pleasure or utility friends into soul friends, simply by being the type of friend you want to have. And once you know what it’s like to have soul friends, you can set your bar for future friends at that level. (I’m always here to be your soul friend, too!)
Here are three quick strategies you can use to be a soul friend:
Hold Up The Mirror
Aristotle argued that becoming better could happen by holding up a mirror to your friend, showing themselves a view of themselves that was otherwise impossible to see. Hold up a mirror to your soul friend by sharing what you have learned from them. You can draw their attention to their highest and best qualities, ones that might not be in their awareness.
Ask A Thoughtful Question
We tend to recycle rote questions in our interactions. Be the friend who asks the deep, thought-provoking questions. This will invite vulnerability, which facilitates faster bonding and deeper relationships. What would you do if money was no object? Who do you admire most in the world? What is your definition of success? What do you want your legacy to be? Questions like these can open up wonderful, life-giving conversations
See Your Friend As Yourself
Soul friends see their friend as part of them — they celebrate their wins and feel their pains as though they were their own. Be the first person to congratulate them. Be the first person to follow up after they went through a struggle. Let them know when you think of them, and think of them often. Being supportive in this way is so powerful.
Who are your soul friends? Share this post with them and let them know how much they mean to you!
This post was previously published on The New Happy and is republished here with permission from the author.
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