Friendship is unnecessary, like philosophy, like art, like the universe itself,” author C.S. Lewis once pointed out. “It has no survival value; rather, it is one of those things which give value to survival.”
Like we didn’t know that already, courtesy of our childhood stays in the 100 Acre Wood.
As much as it’s been meticulously dissected by keen-eyed scholars and assigned complex meaning by erudite intellectuals (The Tao of Pooh, anyone?), Winnie the Pooh is really a simple story of friendship—and all of the sacred magic that life gift entails.
That the “silly old bear” and his clutch of pals are endlessly tolerant of the others’ foibles is a big part of it. Piglet forgives Eeyore his gloomy affect, Pooh forgives Tigger his unremitting hyperactivity, and the lot of them take the title character’s addiction to honey in absolute stride, never making the guy feel the least bit awkward about it.
Such is the stuff of true friendship, a blessing whose stunning ordinariness should do precisely nothing to encourage us to take it for granted.
Along with the untold riches it showers on a person, true friendship provides a rewarding spiritual underpinning to our tenure on this spinning marble. Not quite family, but far from casual acquaintance, a genuine friend is an extraordinary thing. Nineteenth-century intellectual Henry Adams once wrote, “To have one friend in life is much; two are rare and three are hardly possible.”
Through our relationships with these special souls, our lives find purpose and definition. Our friendships enhance who we are, linking us to the divine, furnishing unfathomable protection, and wrapping us in a kind of forcefield of goodness and light.
More than that, these intimate interactions have been shown to deliver hard-wired benefits to our physical health. Friendships enjoyed by women, long singled out between the sexes as unique for the ready exchange of feelings they feature, help ease stress, combat depression and encourage a general feeling of well-being through the serotonin they inject into our psyches. “One of the best things a man could do for his health is to be married to a woman,” Stanford psychiatry prof Dr. Alan Schatzberg has said. “For a woman, [it’s] to nurture her relationships with her friends.”
Indeed, he compares time spent with friends to a gym workout for the physical benefits it offers. “Failure to create and maintain quality personal relationships with other humans is as dangerous to our physical health as smoking,” he’s said.
It’s no secret that life can be one hell of a trial. Sickness, financial problems, family conflict and lost library books add up to make for an extremely trying journey. In the company of a true friend, though, the trip is made gloriously bearable. Joyful, even.
Through friendships, we learn to enrich, to inspire, to be genuine. We discover that life is about more than taking, and that giving to a friend pays dividends we can’t conceive of. And we understand that it is through our relationships with the most treasured of our life’s companions that we taste the sweetest honeypots.
Pooh knew it all along.