My dad had more friends than anyone I’ve ever known. Friends I didn’t even know he had until they showed up at his memorial service. Friends in their 20s and friends in their 80s, and every decade in between.
I am very grateful to have had that role model.
Recently, I watched an interview between Oprah Winfrey and Michelle Obama, who was promoting her recent book, “The Light We Carry.” (Haven’t read it yet.) The subject that intrigued me the most was Michelle’s description of her “Kitchen Table” friends — the friends who figuratively and literally sat at her kitchen table over the years. And so, I started making a list of my own kitchen table friends. Not unlike Michelle Obama, my list includes people who’ve been in my life for decades as well as people who’ve galloped in over the past five years, and everything in between. Taking that personal inventory made me feel very rich in the things that matter.
While you’re thinking about your own kitchen table friends, I’d like you to add another category – your casual friendships. The ones who won’t be lining up to donate a kidney for you or offering to loan their car to you. Maybe it’s the waiter at one of your favorite restaurants who remembers that you don’t like ice, or maybe it’s the thoughtful pharmacist who asks about your elderly mother as well as about your new puppy. Not surprisingly, my dad had a ton of them.
Casual friendships have more power than we realize. Why? Well, maybe the fact that we improve their lives as much as they improve ours has something to do with it. We generously tip the waiter because we’re frequent patrons and he’s taken the time to remember us. We genuinely smile when we greet the pharmacist, and she tells us how refreshing we are compared to the sick and complaining people she deals with all day.
Adding the rich layer of casual friendships to our lives is not rocket science. In fact, I can boil it down to three simple steps.
Step 1: Notice the people you see regularly. Give them a smile each time you see them. Speak to them. Ask them a question and listen to the answer. Compliment them.
Step 2: Add a pinch of gratitude. Find a reason to thank them for their help, their time, their smile, or their willingness to do their job in order to make your life a bit better.
Step 3: Pay attention to when people thank you.
If you are like Oprah, with only one person at your kitchen table, or like Michelle Obama, who had a dozen, please don’t judge yourself. The number is irrelevant. Instead, take a look at your casual friendships. I think you may be surprised at how many encounters you have on a weekly basis that can fit into this category. You probably don’t even realize how your smile, or your kindness can and will enrich their lives.