As the Dalai Lama reminds us, everyone wants to be happy. The problem is seeking it in ways that may not lead to full contentment. Our mindfulness practice is based on the understanding that deep contentment is first of all related to the process of getting to know the mind, and only secondly due to external factors, such as our job, or wealth or even our relationships. My work with people brings me into contact with a lot of different experiences of relationships. Today’s society places a great emphasis on happiness coming from finding the right relationship, placing a huge burden on an aspect of life which was never designed to carry it. It becomes one of the main carriers of our hopes for contentment, this search to find someone who will through whom I will be complemented and completed.
This fusion model does not seem to be working and is not the only understanding available. The Ancient Greek philosopher Aristotle stated that there were three types of friendship, only one of which brings about a real contentment and happiness. Today’s emphasis leans toward the first two, which he says ultimately do not lead to contentment, and in many cases can actually increase our lack of fulfilllment.
The first type is a friendship of pleasure, mainly as sexual partners, which feels good in the moment but which is not fulfilling in the long run. Aristotle said this is normally seen in younger people, “as passions and pleasures are great influences in their lives”. The second type is a friendship of utility, where people are in a friendship but thinking of themselves. Thus, they use the other for status, or to feel good about themselves, or for prestige, or for beauty or money, or because they add to their own sense of self by being with the other. He calls this friendship shallow and “easily broken”.
In contrast to these two, Aristotle described a third type, which he called a friendship of shared virtue. In this case you discover a friend who gets you in your deepest self, your soul, and inspires you to grow into your highest potential. He called these people soul mates or “soul-nurturing mates”, as the friendship touches our deepest self. It gives us the energy and courage to grow into better people. Being with this type of friend allows us to believe in our dreams and feel bigger than ourselves, more confident in our daily lives. He believed this was directly related to our deep happiness. This type of friendship is long-lasting but hard to find, because it takes a lot of work and a resilience to develop.