This article first appeared on Happify
It’s that time of the year. Family, friends, and colleagues surround us; holiday cheer is in the air; and it’s a time to give and take, eat and drink, and, of course, be merry.
Naturally, this isn’t always so! There are also family politics, friends you wish would cancel on you, and colleagues you’ve avoided all year. And while some relationships are here to stay for obvious reasons (we can’t choose our family, for example), there are many others that we can nurture or curb to become closer to our best selves.
Given that relationships are a central theme this time of year, perhaps it’s also the time to reflect on the ones we’d like to surround ourselves with going forward. As the most social species on the planet, we cannot be complacent about this, especially since our happiness, our success, and the meaning we find in our lives often depend on the people we share our lives with. And if your own experiences haven’t already proved this, there are ample studies that do.
Albert Bandura found that one of the key sources of self-efficacy was having people around who believe in us, while the research on self-worth has shown that a sense of belonging is one of the main components that feeds into authentic self-worth. Over the decades, from Bowlby’s development of attachment theory to the current research on shame and self-conscious emotions, we’ve come to see again and again that relationships will either help us grow into wholehearted individuals willing to show up fully in the world, or keep us from ever knowing the person we could have been.
To get thinking about the tribe you’d like to build, you may want to take from Tom Rath and the Gallup organization’s survey on “vital friends”. They interviewed over a thousand survey respondents to find out more about the people whom respondents cited as making a positive difference in their lives. The list below includes them, as well as others who may be essential to your tribe. Go over this list and see where the gaps lie for you. You may find that some people fulfill more than one role in your life. You may also find that some fill none, and that you may just be hanging on to them because you feel like you “should.”
These are the people who motivate you and help you continue to grow. No unnecessarily lavish praise here—instead, they ask powerful questions that keep you thinking of the next steps in your journey.
Champions make you wonder whether it’s really you they’re talking about when they’re in conversation with others. They’re the ones who make you blush, even though you’re secretly grateful they’re tooting your horn.
These are the people with whom you feel you can make magic happen. They’re as fired up about your ideas as you are, and they dive into them fully—adding, taking on, and helping you bring them to life.
The companion is just that—the person who never lets you down and whom you can turn to even in the worst of times. They will never judge or blame, and always do whatever is in their power to lift you back up.
Connectors have an innate ability to network; they use this not only for themselves, but for helping others get to know each other for mutual benefit.
This is the “fun” friend in your life—the one who’s always up for partying, who has a bunch of jokes for all your down moments, and who invariably brings a smile to your face.
The Mind Opener
You won’t want every member of your tribe to be one of these, because Mind Openers make you reflect deeply—and that’s tiring! But without them, you can become too sure of your own ideas and unable to see or appreciate other perspectives.
Navigators are the wise people we need in our lives who can help us find perspective—and see the world through a wider or longer lens when our emotional mind gets hung up on the short-term.
You only need one partner, ideally: a person who is as central to your life as you are to theirs. One word of warning, though—don’t expect a partner to play all of the roles in this list!
These are the people who always have the answer to just what you’re looking for. The perfect sushi place, the latest sales, the best-rated Montessori school in town or university in the world—you name it, they have an answer for it.
Receivers have little to offer in return for your help, aside from gratitude—and sometimes, not even that. But having them around imbues life with meaning and purpose.
A sponsor is mostly in a working relationship, where they see your potential and are invested in your success. You perform, and they open doors for you. You don’t, and they don’t either.
Once you know the relationships you’ll nurture going forward, also reflect on how you would do so. Get clear about your own strengths and think of the roles above that you can play for the people in your tribe—because no relationship worth keeping will stand the test of time unless you invest yourself in it.
If this feels like a little too much, remember that we’re wired for connection. Nurture the right tribe, and you’re already well on your way to a meaningful life.