Psychologists have found that one of the most important determinants of happiness is the quality of relationships in our lives.
How fulfilled we feel by our connections to other people determines so much about how fulfilled we feel about life in general. Those connections might include our partner, our close friends, our larger community, or the people we see everyday.
It’s wonderful to make new friends and forge new relationships. Of course, that can happen at any stage of life, especially if we travel, try new things, and put ourselves in new settings where we’re likely to meet new people who share interests with us.
But once we’ve built a structure for our lives, invested time and care in the relationships we’re committed to (like say, our spouses, kids, grandkids and lifelong friends), we may not have a lot of time and energy left to meet new folks.
That’s why it can be so important to take pleasure in the relationships we already have. It can become crucial to cultivate these relationships in our lives—just as they are.
There’s often room to deepen existing relationships and make them more fulfilling. That could involve connecting with a partner you’ve had for over 30 years, a friend you’ve had since college, or the folks in your community you’ve been seeing every week for a decade.
Here are a few things I’ve found that immediately add depth, satisfaction and enjoyment to all my relationships…
Create positive feedback loops.
When we first meet someone we connect with, cultivating appreciation happens naturally. We’re drawn to all the things we like and admire about that person. As a result, those attributes get a lot more of our attention!
That creates a positive feedback loop. We focus on the things we like about that person, and in turn, this person feels appreciated and seen. Since they feel appreciated, that person is more likely to express the qualities we like, and then we perceive and notice those qualities and appreciate them more. And on and on it goes.
Often, we can fall into the opposite habit—especially with the people closest to us.
When we spend time with one person, we tend to notice the things about them that might annoy us.
This creates a negative feedback loop. We focus on that not-so-pleasant habit of theirs. They can sense that we’re tense or annoyed. In response, that person might act more cranky or reserved because of this negative feedback. And so on, and so on.
To cultivate better relationships, experiment with creating only positive feedback loops with the people you’re closest to.
The key to starting a positive feedback loop is to focus on what you appreciate about the other person. See how long it takes before you start to see positive changes in that other person’s reactions. You should be able to notice a difference pretty quickly.
Stay curious about that person.
Each one of us is incredibly complex, and totally unique. There is literally no one like you in the entire world.
Every human on Earth contains universes and fascinating mysteries. None of us can ever fully know everything about someone else. That means there’s always uncharted territory. There’s always so much to learn about every single person that we love.
It takes a tiny mindset shift to stay grounded in this reality. Make an intentional shift away from the assumption that just because you’ve known someone for a long time, you know where they’re coming from or how they’re going to be. Instead, shift toward a curiosity and openness that always allows space for new possibilities.
Embrace the differences in who you are.
This one took me a long time to learn.
For years, I was looking for people who I “had a lot in common with” in order to connect. For sure, shared interests or personality traits can be a great spark for connection. But over time, I’ve found that some of my most fulfilling relationships are with people who are really different from me!
When I can embrace and appreciate those differences, I often find that it’s the differences themselves that bring me the most learning, evolution and growth.
When someone I love can show me a totally different way of thinking about or relating to a situation—something I’d never come up with myself—it stretches me outside my habits and helps me grow! And the best relationships are the ones that encourage growth.
How do you cultivate more fulfilling relationships with the people in your life? Let us know in the comments!