The Value of Being Friendly

Supposedly, we live in a completely connected world. We can call anyone who has a phone, 24/7. We can watch events as they happen on the other side of the world, thanks to television. We can also email, video chat, text, and more.

Yes, all of this technology is absolutely amazing. But ultimately, it really doesn’t make me feel any more personally connected to other people than I was before. I hope this doesn’t make me sound like “an old fogey” (because I certainly don’t feel old), but I think that our wired lifestyles are actually causing us to become more isolated. We’re not interacting person-to-person with other people as much as we used to. We’re forgetting how to be neighborly and pleasant. Our kids are actually losing the ability to converse with others the way human beings have almost since the dawn of time. And that’s a shame, because in my mind there simply isn’t, and never will be, any substitute for good old-fashioned face-to-face conversations.

In fact, I actually decided to make “Being Friendly” Step Nine in my Twelve Weeks to Living a Happier Life program because I think it’s a vital part of being a positive, fulfilled, and, yes, happy person. And I even consider being friendly to everyone I meet with a big hello and smile—and often even with a pat on the back and a hug, too—to be my own secret energy booster, keeping me rocking throughout my day, as each of these fun new interactions gets my own juices flowing as well. You simply can’t put a value on a heartfelt smile or a genuine “Hi, how are you doing?” Think about it: Thanking a bank teller or grocery store cashier for her great help can change her entire day for the better. And saying hello to the traveler next to you can spark a fun conversation, and maybe even a new friendship.

I know from years of experience that even if you can’t see it, everyone on Earth is carrying some sort of burden. It could be that your neighbor’s mother just died, that your coworker was diagnosed with a chronic disease, or even that your niece just went through a break-up with her high-school boyfriend. Always remember, while you can’t take another person’s pain away, you can be what I call a lamp-lighter: someone who makes small positive differences in other people’s lives by making them feel just a little bit happier and lighter along their journeys.

And what about those inevitable difficult days when all you can muster is gritted teeth instead of even a half-hearted smile? Well, just make every effort not to take out your frustration on others around you. It’ll take some self-control, but remember, it doesn’t help anyone when you snap at the sales representative whose hands are tied by company policy, for example.

As you go through life, make an effort to reach out in some friendly way to the people you see. Even if you’re reserved or just not a natural “connector,” it’s still easy to smile and say a quick hello to your neighbors, your coworkers, your bus driver, and your child’s teacher, for instance. They won’t be the only beneficiaries, either. I guarantee you, as you begin to be sunnier to others, you’ll start to feel your own mood brighten, too. (That’s the power of positive connection!) Plus, if you make friendliness a habit, I think you’ll find that others will begin to respond to you differently because they will find you more approachable.

Ultimately, you’ll be surprised by how rewarding simple friendliness can be. You’ll bring more happiness to others’ days and to your own, too. I promise!

The Importance of Improving Close Relationships

Recently, I blogged about how important it is to seek out positive people and also to avoid putting yourself needlessly into situations that drain you or are harmful to your attitude. That’s easy to do when we’re talking about, say, Pessimistic Peter in the accounting department. He’s not an integral part of your life, and it’s realistic to avoid his rants in the break room.

What’s not realistic is to avoid, say, a brother (who might always think he’s a victim), or a best friend (who has a tendency to dwell on how nasty her ex-husband is), or a mother-in-law (who constantly nitpicks), or even a spouse or significant other (who likes to point out everything that’s going wrong in your lives).

Obviously, I think it would be irresponsible, unwise, and even cruel to cut these relationships out of your life without a second thought. You see, while I stand by the importance of surrounding yourself with positive people, I also think that it’s always a good idea to put work into improving and strengthening your closest relationships. Think about it this way: Relationships are a two-way street. You can’t write them off without doing your part to make them work!

In my book, I recommend making a list of all of the people who are important to you. It might include friends, colleagues, neighbors, nieces, nephews, aunts, uncles, and of course, most importantly, your own immediate family. Over the next six months to a year, make it your goal to reach out to each of these individuals, whether it’s through a phone call, a visit, or plans to go putt-putting together. Tell these people why they’re important to you and how they make your life better, and that you appreciate them or even love them.

And if there are any points of contention, anger, or unresolved grudges, make a sincere effort to resolve them. In most cases, you won’t significantly strengthen or improve these relationships in just one conversation. But you’ll have made a start. And if you regularly keep in mind why each of the people on your list is important to you, you’ll be motivated to reach out to them more regularly and to work through any negativity that might be keeping you from growing closer.

Now, I want to mention a few groups of people who should always be at the top of your relationship-strengthening list. One group is your parents. If you, like me, are blessed to still have spry, loving parents in your life, don’t take them for granted. (A friend who has lost his mother and father constantly reminds me of this.) There is no substitute for learning from your parents and letting them know how important they have been—and continue to be—in your life.

And those of you who know me well won’t be surprised by what I’m going to say next: The people on your list whom you must absolutely prioritize the most are your children (if you have any) and your spouse or significant other. First, you must realize that your children need to feel your love unconditionally and at all times, not only when they get a great report card and score goals on the soccer field. Also, it is devastating to children when their parents are clearly with them only in body and not in mind. (You know what I mean: You’re eating a bowl of ice cream with your kids, but you’re really thinking about the office, for instance.)

As for your spouse or significant other, it’s crucial to realize that this is the person who sees you every day at your best and at your worst, who is a partner in raising your kids, whose support can make or break your success, and whose attitude is integral to your own happiness (and vice versa!).

To put it bluntly, you must make your marriage your number one priority each and every day; otherwise, it will deteriorate just as surely as your car would without maintenance. In fact, I often think that marriage vows should be changed to something like this: “I promise to love you for better or for worse, in sickness and in health…so long as you continue to make me feel special and appreciated.” This new vow might sound funny at first, I know—but it’s also something that must be non-negotiable if you want to have a strong, successful relationship. Too many of us forget that we all need to feel special, appreciated, and good about ourselves, especially in the comfort of our own homes.

My best advice is to celebrate your spouse every day. In my case, I tell Yadira how beautiful she is and how much I love her many, many times each day. I even bring her flowers on occasion “just because.” We plan special nights out and we constantly show affection. I have found that when your spouse knows how much she (or he!) means to you, your marriage won’t be problem free…but it will be based on much more positive interactions and on increasing amounts of love. And trust me—that can make all the difference!

Remember, life is all about people. And the stronger your relationships are with your friends and loved ones, the happier you will be.