“Happiness is not something ready-made. It comes from your own actions.”
Happiness in life can come from many things.
From how meaningful you find your work to be. From a hobby you can get lost in for hours. Or from just being with the natural world around you and appreciating the light rain and slowly falling leaves of autumn.
A big part of the happiness also comes from the relationships in our lives. And from how we cultivate them and let them grow.
So today I would like to share 7 habits that have helped me to grow happier relationships – of any kind – in the past few years.
1. Treat other people as you would like to be treated.
The most basic guideline of relationships is that how you treat someone is how that person is likely to treat you too in the long run.
If you are kind and helpful they will tend to be kind and helpful to you. If you never really listen or are judgmental then you are likely to get that in return.
There will of course be exceptions. Some people will not reciprocate and treat you well even if you treat them well. And you may not get back what you give right away.
But in the long run and in most cases things tend to even out.
Just don’t make the mistake of waiting for everyone else to make a change or to take the first step. Instead, be proactive. Be the one to take the first few steps to build the relationships you want to live in and to start giving what you want to get.
2. Truly listen.
Everyone wants to feel like they are being understood.
So when you listen, don’t just wait for your turn to talk. And don’t keep your mind half-occupied with some other issue or plans for tonight.
When you listen, truly be there. With your full attention.
Two things that have helped me to become a better listener are:
- Fully focus outward. Focus on just what is happening in front of you with your senses. Listen carefully to the other person’s voice and the tone of it, the emotions expressed in the eyes and in how he or she uses his or her body. You may still miss things but forgetting about yourself and your troubles or ideas for a while is good starting point to be really engaged and receptive to what the other person is trying to get across.
- Tell yourself you will tell someone else about this conversation later on. Then you’ll be more alert and what is said in the conversation simply seems to stick better in my experience. Plus, curiosity and trying to truly understand by asking follow-up questions tends to come naturally.
3. Be assertive.
Being assertive, being able to ask for what you want and to say no to what you do not want in your life will not only boost your own self-esteem. It also tends to make other people respect you more and it helps you to form healthier and happier relationships.
So how can you become more assertive?
- Improve your self-esteem. When you improve your self-esteem then a wonderful thing happens. You start to feel more deserving of good or great things in your life. And so you will start to ask for them because you believe it is natural for you to deserve them (other people may of course say no to some of those things and that is their right). And you’ll start staying no to things or behavior both from yourself and others that you do not think you deserve anymore.
- Focus on communicating clearly. Ask for what you want or for what is on the other person’s mind. Use your words. Don’t try to mindread someone else. And don’t expect other people to be able to do such a thing to you either. It is not their responsibility to know what you need in some magical way. It is your responsibility to communicate what you want or need. Just like it is for any other person.
- Start small. If it feels scary to ask for something big or to say no to something very important then start smaller. Say no or ask for something very small. Then work yourself up towards bigger and bigger things.
4. Remember to give the small gifts of kindness.
It is easy to forget about the small gifts of kindness in the stressed and busy everyday life.
But such a small gift can mean so much. It does matter.
Just take a minute or 30 seconds to express your genuine appreciation or gratitude for something that someone in your life does well. You’ll brighten his or her day or week.
Or leave a small and sweet note for your partner or child in a boot, hat, tea-container, underneath the pillow or in a book he or she is reading. It is a very simple and small thing but it in my experience it always brings a big smile to the recipient’s face.
And sometimes a simple and genuine thank you can have a bigger impact than you may realize.
5. Mix things up.
Taking each other for granted or winding up in a repetitive rut can in many relationships lead to boredom or to things not feeling as exciting as they used to. Just relaxing and doing the same old things you always do don’t take much effort. But it can erode the relationship.
So make sure to mix things up. And to try new things once in a while. Do not just go outside of your comfort zone in your own time. Do it when you spend time with a partner or a friend too.
Try a new sport, hobby or restaurant. Go to an event that sounds intriguing and like something new. Go away for a weekend to some place you wouldn’t expect the two of you to go.
6. Have human standards.
I often mention that one of the best ways to stop being a perfectionist and to be happier is to set human standards yourself. Instead of inhuman standards that no-one can live up to really.
This is a good tip for finding more happiness with other people too.
Having perfectionistic standards for your partner, friend or co-worker can lead to a lot of conflicts that could have been prevented. It can even over time lead to the end of a relationship.
People will stumble and make mistakes. They will not always have a good day or perform at their absolute best. They will have flaws.
Sure, some things may need to change in the other person for you to keep being in the relationship. And some missteps could of course lead to the end of the two of you.
But many things that are smaller than that and that can cause irritation or arguments pretty much every week can be greatly reduced with everyone in your life simply by having human standards both for yourself and for others.
And over time, it can make a big difference in how relaxed, open and happy a relationship can be.
7. Focus on solutions, instead of arguing on and on.
Just like in your own personal life, getting stuck in thinking too much about whys and what ifs can be quite destructive. Such thoughts going around in circles rarely leads to much except making issues bigger and scarier than they actually are and to feeling paralyzed or unnecessarily angry or irritated.
So be assertive instead. If there is an issue then communicate what the two of you are thinking instead of assuming or trying to mindread each other.
Find understanding by truly listening to what you hear and by trying to see things from the other person’s viewpoint by asking yourself:
How would I see this situation we are in if I were in his or her shoes?
Then focus on solutions together. Yes, one of you – or the both of you – may have made a mistake but it has already been done and you don’t have a time-machine. So don’t focus on replaying it in your mind over and over or on arguing about it for too long.
Try to move on to focusing on finding and taking action on a solution together. Instead of getting stuck in inaction on separate flanks.
- How can we solve this?
- What is one small and practical step we can take today to move forward with this solution?
Focus on what WE can do. Instead of focusing all your energy and thoughts on ME vs YOU and turning a beginning conflict into a fight that benefits no-one really.
It will help both you and the other person and your relationship.