"Why are you always smiling?" A friend once asked me. This question swirled in my head for days—weeks, even—until the day I was on the plane coming to Northwestern for the first time. I had an epiphany. I realized it was the people in my life who made me happy. How so? Here’s what I’ve learned.

Of course, we care about what others think or have to say about us. Regardless, we have to be selective in who we let give us negative feedback. It might be hard to digest, but some people don’t want what’s best for us. That's why you have to listen to those who do, to those who aren’t happy to see you struggle. These friends don’t tell you what you want to hear, but what you have to hear. These are the people who wish to see you grow. Listen to them.

To make sure you're fostering the strongest possible friendships in college, here is a list of things you can do.

  1. Reflect on your relationships. Each time you leave a conversation, think about the way it made you feel. Do you like your attitude when you’re with that person? Do you feel comfortable? If you don’t leave a conversation feeling positive, challenged or thoughtful, think about that relationship and how it impacts you.
  2. Respect your time and tranquility. Some people drain us. Though it’s important to help a friend in need, we can’t be everything for everyone all the time. We aren’t sponges; we can’t absorb people’s worries and pain. Respect your energy and the time you need to renew it.
  3. Commit to and work on your relationships. This doesn’t mean that you need to write or talk to your friends every single day, but you should put effort into reaching out and showing that you care.
  4. Address the elephants in the room. Friendship isn’t all laughter or funny inside jokes; it’s important to have serious conversations and challenge the people that you care about. Growth is key to relationships, and it comes with discomfort and builds trust. Yes, even when it’s awkward.
  5. Not everyone will like you and that’s okay. Truth is, unresolved insecurities can make some people hate even the best of us. This is out of your control. Don’t waste your time and energy on people who don’t show interest. It’s unfair to you.
  6. Recognize envy. Envy is one of the most negative feelings. If someone envies you, don’t change to make others more comfortable. There is nothing wrong with giving yourself space and being distant. If you envy someone, in particular, recognize it. Use that to work on yourself. Discover what interests you and work on that. Focus on your growth instead of others’ failures.
  7. Be proud of your friends. There is no better feeling than getting excited about others’ accomplishments and celebrating them. And nothing compares to feeling appreciated. Show your friends that you value what they do and who they are. Tell them you admire them.
Photo courtesy of Creative Commons

At times, we don’t realize the impact friendships can have on our lives. Sometimes, as college students, we are so focused on romantic relationships that we take for granted platonic friendships. And so, even though the ideas I mentioned above seem somewhat intuitive, we’ve used them so much that their essence has been diluted. It’s incredible to sit in a coffee shop and talk for hours about everything with your best friends or to just dance and laugh with them. It’s beautiful to leave a conversation with questions in your mind and a yearning to improve in your chest. If I’ve learned anything, it is that we shouldn’t waste time on relationships that don’t add value to our lives. We need to focus on relationships that help us evolve. We must surround ourselves with people that have interesting thoughts and different experiences to share. Believe me, this is the secret to being perpetually happy—and smiling.