Friendship is undeniably important for your mental and emotional well-being. With a solid support network in place, you can meet just about any challenge life throws at you.
Plus, you can enjoy everything so much more when you're surrounded by companions who appreciate you and truly “get” you.
But what’s the definition of a true best friend? What makes a good friendship, and how can you tell if you’re cultivating one?
Without a clear sense of what you're looking for in your close relationships, it's easy to fall into unhealthy dynamics and miss out on the kind of rich, loving friendships you deserve.
We’ll explore the seven key qualities of a good friend, explaining how to identify each and considering why each aspect is so important.
As you look through this list, consider how you might also learn more about how to be a good friend to the people in your life.
Of course, you may have two equally good friends who are entirely different from each other in most respects.
However, the vast majority of high-quality friendships feature certain core traits that lead to a sustained and mutual sense of empathy, comfort, love, and understanding.
Which of these thirteen characteristics do you see in your friends, and which do you think you could stand to have more of in your life?
Among the traits of a best friend, honesty is easily one of the most significant.
Your friends should tactfully tell you the truth, rather than lying to keep you happy in the short term.
For example, they should be straightforward when it comes to discussions about clothes, romance, job opportunities, and how you come across to others.
They should never be cruel or abusive.
On the other hand, deceitfulness and manipulativeness are tell-tale qualities of a bad friend.
And if you find out that a friend is lying to other people, the chances are fairly high that they are dishonest with you as well.
Great friends are accepting, even when their lives diverge from your own. They will understand that your choices are your own, and see that what's right for them isn't necessarily right for you. This is considered as mutual self-acceptance.
So, for example, they won't try to make you change how you look, pressure you to do things that make you uncomfortable, or fight with you when you reveal you have a different view about something.
It's fine for them to challenge you and encourage you to say more about your values, but this should always be done in an even-handed way and it shouldn't be done with the goal of changing who you are.
Great friends quotes often point out how important it is for friends to be able to reconnect after time apart.
In other words, your friend shouldn't need your attention every minute of the day and should be able to understand that you have lots of commitments.
One way to maximize your chances of creating low-maintenance friends is to seek out people with similar lifestyles.
So, if you're a parent then you might fit best with friends who also have children, and if you work long days then it can be helpful to hook up with people who also prioritize their careers.
You need friends who make you feel confident about who you are, not people who induce self-doubt.
Indeed, a non-judgmental approach is also one of the characteristics of a good person more generally. Your friends should listen to you and do their best to put themselves in your shoes, even if means trying to relate to a very different belief system.
Friends who try to convince you that there's a “right” way to be will often turn out to be bullies and can make you feel very insecure about your individuality. It's your uniqueness that will actually attract people who are a good match for you.
Loyalty is unquestionably one of the most important qualities of a good friend.
You need to know that this person will stick by your side no matter what and that their commitment to you is not fickle.
The very best friends will help you out when you're struggling, whether it's with money, love, mental health difficulties, or something else entirely.
In contrast, “fair-weather friends” are ones who are only there when things are good for you and when you have plenty to give.
This indicates that they're only interested in what you can do for them and that they don't value you as much as you deserve.
Mutual respect is one of the most powerful traits of a good friendship, and a lack of it is a serious warning sign that you’re entering into an abusive dynamic.
There are lots of facets to respect. For example, your friend should keep your secrets, not talk about you behind your back, and value your time.
In addition, they should form opinions about you for themselves rather than listening to gossip.
Further, once again, if you're talking to a friend who is telling you people's personal business, it's likely that they're using your secrets as conservational currency in their chats with other people.
Finally, never underestimate the importance of aspects of friendship that involve trust. Trustworthiness isn't just about keeping confidences, as discussed above.
It's also about sticking to a certain set of moral principles that relate to the aforementioned traits of honesty and respect.
For example, someone who flirts with your partner or tries to undermine you at work isn't really a friend, and definitely can't be trusted with anything important.
In contrast, friendships that are built on trust are usually long-lasting and deeply satisfying. Make it a priority to create this kind of relationship with people. Offer trust, and make it obvious that you can be trusted in response.
Although it might sound obvious that kindness is an important trait in anyone you have in your life, it is often forgotten when people are reflecting on what they like in others. In addition, what you're looking for is the right sort of kindness.
There are people who eagerly meet all your needs without ever expressing any of their own, and who don't show much of their own personalities just in case they cause conflict.
That isn't the kindness that best serves a friendship, as it's hard to get close to someone who is an extreme people-pleaser.
However, what you do need is someone who cares about and talks about your well-being, while taking care of themselves too.
Related article: 20 Acts Of Kindness That You Can Do For Loved Ones Today
To sustain a long-term friendship, you need to have a spark of excitement. Just as romantic relationships without any spontaneity or growth will eventually lose their appeal, friendships that are repetitive tend to go stale.
A good friend will be keen to offer all kinds of stimulation.
They will go to new places and try new things, be curious about new feelings you experience, and be interested in thinking about the meaning of life with you.
Sometimes, this adventurousness will be dramatic and obvious, as when you do extreme sports together. However, much more often it will just look like a thirst to embrace and experience life together, to go out of your comfort zone holding one another's hands.
The best friendships allow you to regress to childhood to a degree.
While you'll talk about your relationships and careers, you'll also impersonate each other and tease one another. Your shared vision of the world will be one that embraces the absurd and finds humor in the bleakest moments.
This is one of the things that will make the hard times survivable – the way your friend reminds you that there's always a joke buried in life's strife and challenges. And at times, you'll also band together to playfully mock others, whether you're dismissing a bad date or taking the power away from a tough boss.
This, again, allows friendship to be a crucial resource you can draw on when you're in pain.
There's a type of protectiveness that is more like control, where a friend might try so hard to keep you safe that they end up stopping you from having new experiences.
At the other end of the spectrum, there will be people in your life who don't feel comfortable commenting on what you do, even if your decisions don't seem the wisest.
The ideal friend is in the middle, giving you room to make your own choices will also look out for your best interests.
This person won't be afraid to tell you if you're putting yourself at risk, but they'll also fight for your right to live freely. Plus, a protective friend will always stick up for you, defending everything you are.
Close friends have good listening skills, creating space for one another to explore. This involves restraint – a good friend won't just change the subject to their own life as soon as they see a connection, they won't try to impose their interpretation on your situation, and they won't be impatient when you need time to work something out.
Instead, your friend will notice the words you use, your tone, and your body language, and reflect back on what they see.
You'll leave the conversation feeling understood, and most likely understanding yourself better too. Plus, a good listener helps you feel validated and worthwhile, partly by empathizing with how you feel and why you react in certain ways – even if your friend would react differently.
Finally, friendship requires a deep connection between two hearts.
As suggested above, there's a real vulnerability to that, as well as an extreme form of openness. Forming a meaningful friendship requires risk-taking, hard work, and a consistent desire to see the other person's best self.
Open-heartedness involves and means a lot of different things, but the core of friendship is arguably allowing another individual to occupy a part of yourself. You let them see you – in your glorious, flawed reality – and you offer them love as they share themselves with you in return.
While friendship always involves a possibility of hurt, the reward is a richer, funnier life in which you're forever part of a team.