The easiest way to live a longer, happier life is through friendship

Men, it has been clearly established, are notoriously bad at friendships.

Yet study after study shows us it is only deep, rich, human relationships that will leave us happy on our deathbeds. Our flash car and house on the beach won't be top of mind.

We're starting to understand that the act of masculinity – tough, strong, independent, stoic, show no emotions other than anger – has lead directly to the death of six men in Australia by suicide, every day, and the death of one woman a week through domestic violence.

There's something deeply wrong with this.

The missing link

By being self-contained tough-guys who can look out for numero uno, we're missing out on the one thing that can release the internal pressure-cooker that's been building for years … friendship.

Loneliness, science tells us, will kill us as surely as smoking a packet of cigarettes a day. But the things that friendship needs to grow – empathy, compassion, communication – are far from valued "man" traits.

I'm a good example. Over the years I've let some male friendships slide and would have to number my close male friends to well less than 10.

And it's not like we're on the phone every day talking through the big and small things in our lives, like women seem to do so well. I'm constantly astounded at how my partner and her network of friends keep in such regular social media and real-life contact.

But we've lived through each others' various divorces, separations, redundancies, depressions, growing kids, second marriages and new partners.


Unfinished symphonies

There's a couple of guys from the old publishing days, Chuck and Aaron, who I've hung around with and played music for more than 15 years. Well, they played music and I enthusiastically moaned along, sometimes in time.

I have been teaching myself guitar for a couple of years, with questionable success, and felt it time I graduate from my daughter's acoustic to a cool electric. So I dropped a clanging hint to Chuck, who has more guitars than I feel is reasonable, that I'd love to borrow one.

He thought hard and chose me a beautiful dark wood and aluminium instrument he made with his own hands. It's a beautiful thing.

Then I cannily contacted Aaron, who has more amps than I feel is normal, to see if he had an amp he could lend me. He found a beautiful old box with a warm tone and vocal input so I can warble and moan to my own discordant twangs. Bliss.

Here's what I got from reaching out to old mates, beyond some awesome free stuff.

Music sounds better with you

In the time Chuck have spent together recently we've made two songs. We've also talked work, kids, love, music and chickens. We always have a "cuddle", which he endures, when we meet. We share what we've seen in life and business over a considerable stretch in time and I enjoy every minute of his wise and slightly grumpy company.

Aaron came over to my place with the amp and helped me set it up. We sat and talked work, life, kids, partners and guitars, as well as played together a little. I enjoy every minute of his smart, creative company.

I felt remarkably moved by the whole thing. I look at my cool new music kit and think, "Wow, people just gave me that because I asked … they didn't have to." I have an overwhelming sense of happiness and gratitude.


Seeing how we've all grown and changed over the years and the easy, simply conversation was a joy. I'm glad I did it. It was great to see those lads. It had been too long.

The very act of talking openly to a mate is a happiness pill, an antidote against isolation, depression and anger.

If there's one thing we men can do for ourselves, it's reach out to our friends, talk, and keep those relationships rolling.

The more of us do it, the less sad, angry men there will be out there, and we'll all be happier.

Someone should write a song about it.

With more than 25 years in Australian media, Phil Barker has edited NW and Woman's Day magazines, and published such titles as Vogue, GQ, Delicious, InsideOut and Donna Hay. He is a consultant creative director and communications specialist, currently writing a book on "man stuff" for publisher Allen & Unwin. He is a regular commentator on the lives and style of Australian men.

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