10/25/2011 05:57 pm ET Updated Dec 25, 2011

How to Be a Good Friend

What the heck are my qualifications for writing this post? I don't have a Ph.D. or even a bachelor's degree in psychology or sociology. I'm not a certified therapist or a peer counselor or anything like that. So my qualification is simply my self-proclaimed assertion that I just "get it" -- I get how to be a good friend, and I enjoy being a good friend. So you're definitely free to ignore everything I say because I'm admitting from the get-go, the only hard science that has gone into this is the hypothesizing, observations, data collection and drawn conclusions of a regular, pretty simple girl.

I could write this post in list format, giving you 1,000 ideas for how to be a good friend. But that would take the creativity out of your own friendship process and it wouldn't really get to the heart of the matter. And the very core of the matter of friendship is pure joy and enjoyment. To be a good friend, you have to love your role and embrace your role as a friend.

Enjoyment I think is key. Why be friends with someone if you don't thoroughly enjoy the act of engaging in the friendship? Seems kind of intuitive, but then again, a lot of the tips I'm going to be mentioning might seem intuitive, but you wouldn't believe the number of intelligent, aware people in our spheres who can complete miss out on these relatively simple, seemingly obvious concepts. So yes, I can tell you that the success I have had in being a friend has stemmed directly from the fact that I absolutely love my role as a friend to the people I have chosen to surround myself with. I find that being a good friend is one of the most rewarding feelings I've ever experienced, and the closeness of the relationships that I've been able to foster can be likened to a rare jewel, worn by few, longed for by all. But to attain these great friendships, I've had to be committed and engaged.

Engaged... that's an interesting word. Yes, friendships require two people to engage with one another. Friendship includes lots of feelings -- fun, excitement, trust, love, loyalty, respect -- but it also must include the engagement of action verbs on the part of both parties to keep its wheels spinning in the right direction.

What do I mean by "the engagement of action verbs"? I mean that both parties must be willing to DO the things that keep friendships alive and healthy. Both parties must be willing (and eager) to pick up the phone and call or text or email or send a card, both parties must be willing (and eager) to plan fun outings, both parties must be willing (and eager) to insert thoughtful gestures at appropriate (or totally random) times, both parties must be willing (and eager) to remember important events in each other's lives and other occurrences (rough meetings, demanding presentations, tests, etc) that deserve mention and consideration, both parties must be willing (and eager) to be a "first responder" to the other's crises, both parties must be willing (and eager) to support and encourage each other's dreams, aspirations and other relationships, both parties must be willing (and eager) to make little adjustments here and there to make the other happy...

My emphasis in the last paragraph was on the actions of being a friend. You can't just say you're friends with someone or that you like someone or love someone -- you have to actually sustain the relationship with something along the lines of friendship-fertilizer. Also notice in the above paragraph that I similarly kept mentioning "both parties." Not an accident. Friendship is a two-way street, but too often, people find themselves in New York City-style one-way street relationships (no offense, NYC... I love you!) in which one party is doing all the verb stuff, the engaging stuff, the fertilizing while the other party is just kickin' back reaping the benefits while not adding his or her own actions to the mix. Not cool.

This failure to reciprocate is probably one of the most common problems among friends and it's also one of the most hurtful problems. Friendship, when there is reciprocation, can be one of the most beautiful gifts we can give to each other and receive from one another. It can be like two hands washing each other -- each has no goal except to get the other hand sparkly and clean and because both hands are focused on the other and reciprocate with equal scrubbing and massaging, each hand gets exactly what it needs. However, when one party is doing all the work or even a large percentage of the work to keep the friendship going, it's just simply not fair. And even though the engaged and active party will initially give and give and give out of pure kindness and affection, this cannot continue forever. Each party needs to refuel the other with kindness, attention, and thoughtfulness. Otherwise, the friendship will spit and sputter to a stop after the one-way or majority giver either moves on or is too hurt to continue giving without receiving in kind.

Little things mean a lot. It's just not hard, people. So when it comes to sustaining friendships, unless they're crazy or unhealthy, it's just not difficult. There is just absolutely no excuse, particularly with our modern technology (really, you were too busy/tired to send a text?!) for being a lame friend. Get it together! Most people want one pretty simple thing -- to feel loved. And there are millions of ways to give people this feeling, without spending hoards of money or hours upon hours of your time. Be thoughtful, be creative, remember, listen... just care.

Be consistent. Once you've been friends with someone for awhile, you start getting into a groove. You know the drill - how often you usually communicate, what each other's life schedule is like, where other people fit into the mix. Remember, change isn't the easiest thing for people to handle, so when your life changes or your friend's life changes, try to keep your friendship as consistent as possible. Sure, there are major events like moving to different locations or getting married that will affect your friendships, but that doesn't mean you still cannot be consistent. Yes, the ways in which you might communicate or express your friendship might change over time, but the level of your friendship should remain either constant or developing stronger. Each friend we bring into our lives is unique. None can be replaced or substituted for. So we should try, as good friends, to give our friends their place in our lives, no matter what else or who else is added to the mix.

The bottom line is this: Friendship should be fun. It should be an enjoyable back and forth with neither party feeling like they have to "keep score" and both parties feeling special, fulfilled and appreciated. When we enjoy our role as a friend, when we engage in friendship-enhancing actions, when we reciprocate kindness and thoughtfulness, when we are consistent and when we are committed to enriching each other's lives with the meaningful "little things," we will find ourselves not only fulfilled by the beauty of giving, but we will also see our kindness and thoughtfulness returned, often exponentially.