On Friendship

Since late last year, I’ve been thinking about the following quote by Jim Rohn.

You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.

5 sign

Photo by N Ino

I want to share my interpretation of the quote. It has to do with falling into a group where we feel comfortable. College students tend to hang out with college students and not high school dropouts. Not that they can’t be best of friends, but the relationship can become uncomfortable for obvious reasons.

If our group is growing, then either we are growing or we feel comfortable around those that are and the group needs to feel the same way about you. Those 5 people represent loose boundaries.

Last year I had a lot of good luck. There is no need to go into details, but my life changed, and for the positive starting in the spring. Prior to that my life and relationships had been pretty much consistent. As my luck started to improve, I found the relationships of those closest to me became more difficult. But why?

I just recently finished the book How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by economist Russ Roberts. The book is an excellent discussion on the modern application of Adam Smith’s ideas from his book The Theory of Moral Sentiments.

How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness
How Adam Smith Can Change Your Life: An Unexpected Guide to Human Nature and Happiness by Russ Roberts

In the book, Roberts quotes Gore Vidal to explain a point made by Adam Smith regarding how those closest to us can react to our good fortune.

Every time a friend succeeds, I die a little.

Personally, I have never understood this static world view of happiness and success. I want all my friends and family to be wildly successful, even if it means they will be too successful to spend time with me. I’d rather their successes inspire me than feel resentment to their good fortune. I don’t view happiness and success as a fixed pie. When someone else has good fortune, it does not rob good fortune from the others in the group.

But others don’t feel like I. They align more with Gore Vidal. But unlike Vidal, I don’t think they are consciously aware of how they are responding. When a member of the group is having good fortune and it isn’t them, they feel threatened. And they respond by withdrawing or creating tension where none existed before. They need to create a narrative that makes them feel better. And often the only way that can happen is for them to replace your presence in their group of 5 with someone else.


Add yours

  1. I think the thing with luck is other people may not be in their own luck cycle and feel envious. A very normal human emotion when you are feeling stuck. Life is swings and roundabouts. You never know how long your own good luck will last and when you will be sharing in misfortune. So better to be sensitive to the nature of these cycles, so much good fortune is a matter of chance and being in the right place at the right time. I look at life as full of potential for change, this too shall pass, and better to live fully with awareness that others are not always in the best of places and that could one day be my own misfortune. We count our blessings and know that life at best is precarious and chances are tough times are coming for all of us, better to treat each moment with a sense of lightness. Like the Tao de Ching it is good to flow with moment, recognising that subtle changes are taking shape everywhere. We have been through some tough few years recently and now slowly things are improving but we cannot bargain on our success because so many things that have come to pass could also fade, so we flow with the good times recognising that disappointment could be around the corner.

  2. This is the poem that comes to mind:


  3. “Moral sediments”?!?

  4. @Pauline – Thanks for sharing.

    @Matt – Oops! Fixed. Thanks.

  5. Am an earth scientist, so the word ‘sediment’ caught my eye. I was kind of wishing Smith had written about moral dirt.

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