When you’re young, friendship opportunities are easy to come by.
For most of your childhood and teenage years, you’ll be in school surrounded by peers, not to mention people you meet through extracurricular activities.
As you get older, whether you choose college or an alternative, you’ll meet other friend contenders through your courses or work life.
Even with all these opportunities, finding and keeping good friends takes work!
And it gets harder from there once you leave home and start living on your own. People get into relationships, leave jobs, or move away, and once-strong relationships can quickly and quietly fizzle out.
There’s no getting around it—if you want to be the kind of person who has deep, rich friendships throughout life, then you need to be prepared to put in lots of work to get there.
Fortunately, though it takes work to be a good friend, the work is enriching, exciting, and meaningful (even if it is challenging sometimes).
If you want to learn how to be a good friend, you’re in the right place. First, I’ll cover some honest definitions of good, solid friendship. Then I’ll dive into the practical things you can do to be a better friend and strengthen your relationships.
What makes a good friend? Here are the ingredients
Here’s a quick cooking metaphor for you: Imagine every person has their own unique flavor—no two flavors are exactly alike.
When you mix two or more flavors together, you’ll have different outcomes. Sometimes the results will be exciting, complementary, and delicious. Others will be an acquired taste that grows on you over time, or you’ll experience an unpleasant clash of disagreeable flavors.
This is how friendships work as well. Some people come together and enrich each other, while others simply aren’t meant to be friends (and that’s totally ok).
Though each friendship flavor is unique, there are hallmarks that separate truly good friendships from those that won’t stand the test of time. Here’s how to measure a true friendship:
Equality is perhaps the most fundamental part of any friendship, as it impacts the other ingredients listed below. All parties involved need to offer mutual support, respect, empathy, and vulnerability.
Relationships will naturally ebb and flow, as one person may require more support than another. But, over time, the amount invested should roughly equal out.
⚠️ It’s a problem when… one person consistently invests way more than the other.
True friends offer support to each other in all aspects of the relationship—and they accept support when it’s offered. These can be small things (driving a friend to the airport) or big things (supporting a friend through a breakup).
⚠️ It’s a problem when… a friend who needs support is ignored, mocked, judged, or mistreated.
A good friendship will evolve over time. Thanks to mutual support, both friends will have a better chance of achieving their goals while also maturing emotionally.
⚠️ It’s a problem when… friends are a bad influence on each other, causing one another to fall short of their potential.
Friendships that last a long time will meet challenges. Not only will you have personality clashes that need to be worked through, but life events—like location changes, romantic issues, and shifting interests—can put a friendship to the test.
The best friendships can weather such challenges and come out stronger.
⚠️ It’s a problem when… friends are constantly arguing, ghosting each other, or not making time to connect.
Friendships often start because of mutual interests or circumstances—such as joining the same sports team or working together on a school project. But to move from acquaintance to friendship, you need to take things to a deeper emotional level.
⚠️ It’s a problem when… the relationship is only based on something surface-level and doesn’t have any deeper “glue” to hold it together.
How to be a better friend: 6 practical tips
Maybe you recognize some of the qualities above in your existing friendships.
But don’t worry if you also think you have room for improvement—the fact that you want to learn how to be a better friend indicates you have what it takes to deepen your current friendships or find new friends in the future. (Here are more tips on how to make friends as an adult, btw.)
Below you’ll find the best tips for taking your friendships to the next level by being the best friend you can be.
Make time for your friends
When we talk about “investing in a friendship,” a big part of that investment is your time. If you want to strengthen a relationship, you must find time for the friends you value most.
This can be harder than it seems, especially as life gets more complicated. It may be easy to make time for your best friends in high school or college because they’re physically close by and your schedules align.
But after that, you need to work a lot harder to dedicate time to friends. Fortunately, there are many practical ways to do this, even if you’re far apart or bogged down with a busy schedule.
Use calendar invites to set dates with friends, whether that’s regular in-person meetups or just a reminder to send a hello text.
Set aside time every week (or less) to go through unanswered messages, return phone calls, and reach out to friends you haven’t heard from in a while.
Don’t wait to be invited. If you want to see a friend, reach out, suggest an activity, and be proactive.
Make extra time for friends when you are going through major life changes. These are often the times we neglect our friends, even though we may need them most. Have a new romantic partner that’s taking up your time? Starting a new job that will require more of your attention? Let your friends know, and do your best to reach out when you can.
Become an active listener
Making time for a good friend is important, but if you really want to know how to be a better friend, you need to learn all about active and passive listening.
👆 That article breaks it down in detail, but it boils down to this:
Active listening is when you focus completely on what someone is saying without thinking about what you want to say next. You pay attention to their body language, ask engaging questions, and use your conversation skills to go deeper into what someone is talking about.
This requires you to practice empathy, put your own thoughts on the back burner, and (surprise, surprise) invest emotionally in the person you’re talking to—in this case, your friend.
Prepare for conversations by coming up with questions you want to ask your friend before a meetup
Listen to how much time you spend talking when with a friend versus how much air time they get. Is there a consistent imbalance?
Being vulnerable is scary. It’s human nature to want to protect our vulnerabilities—the things that make us feel self-conscious, ashamed, or inferior in some way.
But one of the primary reasons we need friends is to make our vulnerabilities less intimidating by sharing them. For this to work, you need friendships that are full of trust and devoid of judgment.
This means you must be attentive, empathetic, and non-judgemental when a friend shares their vulnerabilities with you (no matter how big or small they are).
And in exchange, you must be willing to open up and reveal more of your true self so that you can journey into a deeper relationship together at roughly the same pace.
Make time with friends that allow for good conversation. Coffee shops and walks in the park are better suited for this than loud concerts or a trip to the cinema.
Ask deep and meaningful questions with friends, and actively listen to their responses. Answer the same questions yourself, as appropriate.
If a friend tells you something in confidence, respect their wishes to show them you’re trustworthy. However, if a friend ever tells you something that could lead them to harm themself or others, it’s your responsibility to tell someone who can help. This could be a teacher, a counselor, a doctor or therapist, a parent, or another friend.
Be a cheerleader for ups and downs
A long friendship is naturally filled with ups and downs. With enough time, both members of a friendship will experience successes and heartbreaks in life.
And beyond that, it’s natural for friendships to ebb and flow over the years. It’s not uncommon for good friends to go weeks or months without seeing or talking to each other much, if that’s the right rhythm for both partners.
But even when time and distance turn down the energy, it’s important to pay close attention to the peaks and valleys in your friends’ lives. Promotions, new relationships, anniversaries, graduation, breakups, kids… the list of life milestones goes on and on.
As a good friend, your job is to be there for as many of these moments as possible. This doesn’t necessarily mean being there in person, but you should be paying attention, reaching out, and letting your friends know that you’re there to support and listen, no matter what’s happening in their lives.
Use your calendar or a reminder system to keep track of important dates in your friends’ lives
Use social media to your advantage—visit friends’ pages to see what’s happening in their lives. (Even better, just reach out and ask!)
Let friends know you’re on call when they’re facing big moments. It’s easy to say something like, “I’d love to hear from you after your big job interview, no matter how it goes! Call me—I’ll be available.”
Practice compassionate honesty
The vast majority of the time you spend with friends should be joyful, playful, and meaningful. But sometimes, you need friends who will challenge you—and you need to be willing to do the same, even when it’s hard.
Think of your friends as your inner council. You keep them close because you trust and respect them. You seek out their opinions when you need guidance, and you offer your perspective when they need the same.
The most valuable members of your inner council are the ones who will share their true, honest opinions with you and do so with your best interests at heart.
Other times, you’ll have to tell your friend a difficult truth or even confront a friend who isn’t treating you, themselves, or others well.
The key is to always do this with kindness and compassion.
Never tear your friends down, insult them, shame them, or make fun of them. Instead, offer them honest feedback, help them explore and understand negative patterns in their lives, and tell them when you’re concerned about them.
Prepare for difficult conversations ahead of time by thinking about what you want to say and how you want to say it
Use reaffirming language with friends, and remind them that you care and love them, especially when having hard conversations
Take time to reflect on challenging things your friends say to you before you react, even if this means separating from them for a period of time until you’ve gathered your thoughts.
Be thoughtful for no particular reason
I’ll end this guide with the most fun tip on how to be a better friend.
If you really want to be one of those friends that shines like a diamond, build random acts of thoughtfulness into your friendships.
We already mentioned how important it is to be there for friends during major milestones. But it’s equally important to demonstrate your affection and appreciation for friends randomly, simply because you want to.
There are so many delightful ways to show love for your friends. It can be as simple as picking up the tab when you can afford it or sending a friend a video or meme that makes you think of them.
The key is to do these things not because you expect anything in return but because you truly want your friend to know how valuable they are to you. That’s how to be a better friend—and keep friends for life.
Listen when your friends mention something they like or want—keep a list on your phone or in a notebook and surprise them with gifts on birthdays, holidays, or just whenever.
Team up with other friends to surprise one friend at a time. Go in on a gift together or plan a special surprise outing for a friend.
Set goals for how often you want to surprise friends. Perhaps you have a reminder every Thursday to call a random friend for a fun chat, for example.
Making and keeping friends take work—but there’s no work quite as fulfilling and important. Use these practical tips to deepen your relationships, and keep investing your time and heart into your friends. It will pay off throughout life.