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In classical times, friendship seems to have occupied a central place in the lives of great thinkers, possibly because most of them were men, and women were regarded, on the whole, as inferior beings, rather than equal companions (with a few notable exceptions). It is good for us to share their memories, which are as thought-provoking today as when they were first written.

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Recent research has shown that being able to talk to a friend about personal problems has important mental health benefits. It has also revealed that most people have fewer than five friends that they consider close. So having a small number of close friends turn out to be the key to a balanced, happy, healthy, life.

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The blossoming of a friendship is often a mystery, as people who are quite different — almost opposite, perhaps — in nature may form a close bond. Have we taken a look at this phenomenon, and ask ourselves, how we can teach our children, and ourselves, the value of friendship?

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Having a few loyal, close friends is one of the greatest blessings life can offer. How can we show our appreciation, if we have friends; and if we don’t, how can we learn from our mistakes, and start to build positive relationships in our lives?

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What is the secret to long, happy, and devoted friendships? Does it lie in the balance between the two friends, or in the qualities of each? We have to take a close look at people; including us, and see how they form friendships, from childhood into adulthood, and what they mean to us as we go through life.

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Many people who have made their mark on the world have offered advice on the question of friendship. Thoughts, folklore and legend from different cultures make those guides.

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How is a friendship nourished over the years? Are friends that last a lifetime the most important ones in our lives, and how do we react when a friendship ends? Also, what are the qualities needed to find and keep a good friend?