Happiness and the positive psychology of relationships

Happiness and the positive psychology of relationships

Happiness is not just feeling good, it’s doing good

I had lunch recently with a good friend with whom I catch up about once every two months or so. In most respects, our lives are quite different and under normal circumstances we”d probably not spend much, if any time together. But we met a few years ago and for one reason or other we”ve kept in touch; to be honest I”m not quite sure why we continue to meet with each other except that we both thoroughly enjoy these occasional lunches and in different ways, respect each others (often quite different) perspectives on all sorts of matters.

In our most recent catch up my good friend mentioned that a friend of his, one of the other fathers at his son’s school, was informally chatting about some problems at home and seemed at a loss to know what to do. When the issues were relayed to me it seemed like a perfect opportunity for one of the classic marital therapy strategies. As I explained the approach to my friend, however, his eyes lit up as he noted that he too could probably benefit from this; and that’s when I was reminded of something I”m constantly preaching but sometimes forget to actively apply. That is, we don”t need to wait until we”re in trouble to benefit from the powerful and proven strategies typically included in marital or other therapies; rather, we can use them to prevent the onset of problems or even better, to boost our relationships and our lives more generally from “okayness” to flourishing, fantastic and fabulous!

So this week’s column has two separate but related suggestions – first, don”t wait until you”re in trouble to do something constructive; and try the following approach to improve the quality of one or more of your relationships (and note: this is not just relevant to your personal relationships but also, to those in the workplace or anywhere else for that matter).

First, set aside some time to talk to your partner (or colleague) explaining that you”d like to talk about a few ideas for improving the quality of your relationship. Make sure the time you schedule is a time when you won”t be too tired or likely to be interrupted or disturbed.

Second, set up the experiment or activity in a positive way; that is, explain that what you”re suggesting is not because you think there are significant problems but rather, because you”re keen to do what ever you can to ensure your relationship is as good as it can possibly be.

Third, both of you spend at least 15-20 minutes writing down a list of the top ten things you”d like the other person to do differently; and note, try as best you can to ensure that the things on your list are as specific as possible and that they”re phrased in a positive way. That is, try to note the positive things you”d like the other person to do more of rather than the negative things you”d like them to do less of.

Finally, swap lists and try to find at least three things each that you can agree to do for the other person over the course of the next week; and then do them; and then reinforce or reward each other for your efforts and then get together again and review how you”ve fared.

Remember, good quality relationships are not just about having your own needs met but also, about meeting the needs of the other person. Being kind and caring and compassionate and generous to and for others is one of the most powerful and effective ways to build positive relationships. Don”t do unto others as you”d have them do unto you but rather, do unto others as they”d have you do unto them!