Most of life's happiness is enjoyed with other people: friends, partners, family.
For ongoing wellbeing it is crucial to have time with other people that we care about. You don't have to have all your relationships sorted out but interacting with others is a central part of wellbeing.
This is not just about having fun together, although that can be part of it. It is also about companionship, commonality, sharing and closeness. What we get from positive relationships is the opportunity to give and receive support and caring, and this nurtures us.
Many studies by psychologists, dating way back into the last century, have shown that without these connections we do not flourish as humans. Investing in a range of relationship can therefore be worth the effort and time for us and others.
“ Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom. ” Marcel Proust.
Take a look at some of our top tips to help you have positive relationships.
- Be 'kind'
You may have heard of the idea of performing random acts of kindness. Positive Psychology studies have found that doing an act of kindness for other people is the single most effective way to help yourself feel better!
You can do this in a range of ways, but perhaps to get you started aim to do 1 random act each day over a week and consciously note how you feel, after you have done what you planned. You may even find it helps to write it down. The 'acts' can be anything that 'selflessly' offers support or assistance to someone else. You can perform acts for a stranger or someone you know. The person does not necessarily need to know you performed the act, the only rule is that you cannot place yourself or others in danger ( that, of course, is common sense!) Ideas might include:
- holding a door open
- leaving a partially used parking ticket in the machine for someone else to use
- sweeping a neighbour's path
- donating something to charity
- stopping a lift so someone can get in
- letting someone into traffic
- Say 'hi'
Uni can be a great place to meet people and a lot of people are quite shy, especially in their first year. Make a point of saying hello to the person next to you in a tutorial, lecture or lab. You can extend this over time by asking how they found some aspect of the course or a reading you had to complete or even more simply comment on the weather.
- Active, constructive responding
One of the best ways to build relationships is based on how you respond when another person tells you about something good they have done. If a person tells you they have done something you can respond actively or passively, constructively or destructively in the following combinations.
- Active -constructive responding is asking more about something in an engaged and interested way. If someone says they did well in an assignment - an active, constructive response might be "That's great", followed by questions that ask more such as; "How did you do that? What did you say in the assignment? What was your main idea? What did you enjoy most about doing it?"
- A passive constructive response would be to say something like "Well done. That's great." This is still positive, but doesn't invite any exploration or suggest strong interest.
- An active, destructive response would be "How did you fluke that? That must be all the time you spent when you were meant to help with the housework."
- A passive, destructive response would be "What's are we doing tonight?", or another comment that ignores what what said. The difference seems obvious, but paying attention to how we respond can be a very important relationship building skill.
If someone has some bad news try to respond to the emotion in a caring way. Reflecting back the feeling helps the other person feel understood and supported. Depending on what was said, empathic responses might be something like "That sounds really upsetting." or "That must have really hurt". You are showing in doing this that you have 'really' listened and understood, and this is something we all crucially need, particularly in hard times.
- Thank someone
Just doing this appropriately in every day life can create a general positive feeling for you and for others. An extension of this, and one detailed in the Positive Psychology literature, is to think of someone (still alive) who significantly helped or supported you at some stage in your life, and then write to that person thanking them specifically for what they did; include reference to why it was important to you and how it helped you. Once you have done this, arrange to personally visit them to deliver and read the letter. It has been shown that not only will they feel good but you will find you have a lasting positive feeling. Check in with yourself a month later and see if this is true!
You could do this on a smaller scale and more informally by just thinking of someone who helped you at some time in your life and think through how you would like to thank them, then do it.
Nelson Mandela said that forgiveness was one of the most powerful weapons he had in the fight against apartheid.
Forgiveness can help you as much as it helps the person you forgive. There may be times when forgiveness is not right for you, but most of the time it helps to forgive. Think if there is anyone against whom you hold any bitterness or a grudge. You don't have to talk to them but imagine what it would be like, at least in your own mind, to forgive them. You may want to write this down - but we don't recommend or suggest you deliver this to the person - it is just for you.
- Share a positive experience with someone
Have you ever listened to someone recount a story about something they have enjoyed, like a holiday and you have been able to become absorbed in their story and enjoy the experience along with them. It is this vicarious sharing of a happy moment or experience - that can draw us closer to others. Try to consciously think of positive things that have happened recently and let a friend enjoy and re-live the moment with you!