Once when I was in the sixth grade, I asked my sister to make sandwiches for my school picnic. A string of events occurred, and she declared I was selfish.
I realized I was more interested in getting my work done, rather than the feelings and responses of other people (understanding emotions is a must read). The acknowledgment that I was a bad person and people knew about it was suffocating. I understood that I would be left alone if I did not change.
I consciously tried to become a better person by caring for other people and by showing that I cared.
Why are relationships important?
Imagine. You go to the office, work at your desk with your stooped back, walk to the coffee machine, walk back to your desk without even saying hi to anyone in the pantry. Repeat. You attend formal meetings without any candid conversations or see-you-later-at-lunch with any colleague. Repeat. You lunch alone hidden in one corner of the cafeteria because you don’t want your eyes to catch anyone else’s. Repeat. You drive back home or in a cab, reach home, spend time with your family or stay alone.
Wouldn’t you get bored? I got bored writing this routine. Wouldn’t you need help? Wouldn’t you feel like sharing a pizza or drinking masala chai with someone? Wouldn’t you want to crack a horrible joke?
I have not come across even one person who wants to live such a life. Maybe, it is just me. But where are these people who don’t need any company?
Humans like to personalize everything. To make life simpler. Mutual sharing is in our DNA and we miss it. Keith Ferrazzi said in his book Who’s Got Your Back, “A person is a person through other persons”.
Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, ted-talked about the observations from the 80 years or the longest happiness study conducted on 800 men. Guess what keeps us happy? Wealth, fame or a successful career? Keep guessing.
The study suggested that more socially connected people are happier, healthier, and they live longer. Men who leaned into relationships with family, friends, and community were happier than the more popular, wealthier, and successful men.
Susan Pinker, a developmental psychologist, delivered a Ted talk about the secrets to living longer which were based on a study of the Italian Island of Sardinia, where the centenarians are 10 times more than in North America. She said that the islanders were always surrounded by family, friends, grocery sellers, neighbors, priests, and bartenders. The study observed that women live longer because they groom more face to face social relationships — which creates a biological force field against diseases.
Sometimes when I am alone, I sulk. I feel ugly and fat. I doubt my work strategies and wonder if my dreams would ever come true. Maybe my parents were right about taking a corporate job or that I should have married.
Then, an out-of-touch friend messages that he has been following me and respects me. A traveling friend calls me on a Sunday evening when I am on my own. An ex-director messages that he would miss me. I glance at my English summer camp t-shirt on which a volunteer had scribbled that I was the friendliest person she had ever met.
At my last corporate job, without being asked, I advised my manager on his anger issues. He told me that my guidance — just open conversations — helped him. This same manager is a big supporter now.
These people are not only responding to my writing but to the connections we shared. And sometimes, they pick me up on my lowest days.
Candidness is a human touch that we all so desperately need. People around us help us to be open and candid — which relaxes us. Else our whole life would be like a boring desk job, right?
Referring back to Keith Ferrazzi — everything, even business, always boils down to people. We need to do our work individually and then we need people. As a writer, I struggle alone for hours in the morning. But then I need writers to review my drafts and readers to read them. Even readers read when they feel a connection with the writer.
The essence of life is intelligently done hard work and a strong community of confidants around you.
We don’t know everything about everything. Every now and then we all need help. We need to identify what we can offer and what we need from our relationships.
When we are there for people, they are also there for us.
As we have understood the science behind the importance of relationships, let’s look at how to build healthy relationships
Robert Greene said in his book Art of Seduction, successful seduction begins with your ability to radiate some quality that attracts people and stirs their emotions in a way that is beyond their control. Here are some of these qualities.
Keep yourself below people
Twenty-five centuries ago, Lao-Tse, a Chinese philosopher said, that rivers and seas are called the kings of the valley because they keep below them. Thus they reign all over the mountain streams.
If you wish to be above people, keep yourself below them. Make them feel important and that their opinions count; they become sympathetic and kind. When I showed people that they were better and more important, they treated me as someone more important.
When you show vulnerability, people connect with you; it brings intimacy and openness. Television Sitcom Friends was successful as the error-prone, sometimes emotionally weak, lead characters succeeded despite their fears and problems; that’s when common people could relate to them.
Also Read: 30 Life Lessons I Learned in My 20’s
Bring humor to life
After a family get-together, my brother said to my mother, “She joked with everyone but she did not say anything disrespectful.” His observation boosted my confidence to joke around. This attitude helped me build better my relationships at work and in personal life.
Make people laugh. Anne Lamott, author of Bird by Bird, said in her Ted talk that laughter is carbonated holiness.
Listen to people
A university friend of mine, to whom I hadn’t spoken for a few years, visited Bangalore a few years ago for an interview. I was at work when she sent an impromptu message. I met her and stayed at work two hours longer to make up for the lost time. We both won each other by giving each other another chance and some time.
Let your friends come back to you. Learn to forgive.
Take out time to listen to people and friends. As William Ury — co-founder of Harvard’s Program on Negotiation, author, consultant to the White House — said in his Ted talk, people listen to you when you listen to them; listening is contagious.
Admit your mistakes
Ask for forgiveness. People go soft when you admit mistakes. Once, my partner did something terrible and came running to me, accepting his mistake and asking for forgiveness. I couldn’t be angry with him.
Sophocles, the ancient Greek tragedian, said that truth is always the strongest argument.
Let people be who they are
A friend of mine once told me that she peed while climbing stairs as she was laughing and the toilet was still two minutes away. I told her it was okay and that we all do it. I have never done it but what if I have done worse? No one is perfect.
Don’t point out the mistakes or embarrassments of someone right away even if you know they are wrong. They would be hurt and would become defensive and conscious. Tell them that all humans make mistakes.
Martin Luther said, judge people by their own principles, not yours.
Replace screen time with people’s time in your relationships
Stan Tatkin, a researcher and a relationship expert, told in his Ted talk to look into the eyes of people when you talk. He said we are visual animals who need our eyes to manipulate each other’s nervous systems.
Robert Waldinger and Susan Pinker, both of whom I have referred to before, agree to this. Susan Pinker said that personal and digital interactions are different as physical gestures such as high-fives and eye contact release oxytocin which increases trust and lowers stress.
Look at each other rather than the screen.
Interact genuinely with everyone around you.
Susan Pinker presented another observation that the top two predictors for a long and happy life were social: people you can count on and the number of people you interact with as you move along your day — not only close people but people such as your cleaning help, cook, building watchman, cab driver, grocery seller, parlor ladies, showroom salesman, ticket collectors.
These people also deserve a look, a smile, a handshake, a joke. I work from home and the morning conversations with my help and cook forms a huge part of my human contact every day.
Spend some time listening to their problems, concerns, and needs — forming a genuine human connection. Helping when you can. Adding some value to their life.
Our achievements are also reflected in the achievements and gains of those around us.
Add value to people’s lives if you want them to add to yours.
Be expressive while managing your boundaries. Talk to people in the lift, in a queue, at the doctor’s, or at the dentist’s.
Share your problems; then people share theirs. Let others help you. It makes them feel needed which is crucial for strong relationships.
If you go to a physical group activity, don’t just work out while watching your toes all the time. Talk to people. Laugh about how rigid your body is. Sweat together. At my yoga center, I do partner exercises with a lady. Now, in heavy rains, she asks if she can drop me home. I don’t accept her offer but it feels assuring that, if needed, I won’t be stuck at the flooded yoga building with an old guard and some random dudes from an office, who are really helpful but worry too much, making me conscious.
Touch people. Literally. I am going to write a separate article about how the human touch makes a huge difference. Hug them, kiss their cheeks like South Americans, run your hand through their hair, brush their shoulder or back, hold their hand. Human touch is natural and it personalizes the relationship; we were not born to be physically isolated. But within your limits and without making anyone awkward.
Don’t hold a husband’s hand in front of his wife or behind her. Replace that with a deeper smile. Or maybe a gentle quick brush on the shoulder which does not suggest anything else. Some men right now are saying, we are men and we don’t touch men. Doesn’t matter. You can also brush someone’s shoulder or arm. Or just smile eye to eye.
Reciprocate compliments. Not everyone has the heart to give them.
Observe people’s reactions to your behavior. Adapt as per each person. Let it go when people do not respond. Make them feel completely at ease around you.
I have been stuck at borders without a visa. I have been pickpocketed in a new city. I hung out with a stranger in Bangkok knowing he was interested in me. First, he tried to come close, but when he saw that I trusted him even though I wasn’t interested, he reciprocated my trust by being respectful.
Even when I am alone, I don’t feel unsafe, no matter what part of the world I am and at what hour. I am cautious. But I believe in the goodness of people. Even strangers. If you are nice to them, they would be nice to you. The other day, I told my friend that the cook in my new house are really good. She said, “Because you are good”.
With my close people, I can share my goals, fears, successes, and dreams. A friend’s company or help is always a call away. They encourage me and give me perspective. They tell me the truth when I need to hear it. Were all my plans and ideas always right? No. But I needed support while I walked the path, only to realize that I was wrong.
I have made it, mostly, by being nice.
When Anne Frank, despite everything, can believe that people are really good at heart, so can you.
If someone drops her coins on the floor, you have to get down on your knees to pick them. Believe me, nothing bad comes out of goodness as long as you don’t let people run over you. You wouldn’t even realize but the same people would come back to glue the broken pieces of your life.
Are you still wondering why relationships are important? What do you think about creating healthy relationships?
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