Will you be naughty or nice this holiday season?
Tips for keeping your relationships positive and healthy

“People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”  Maya Angelou

The most important experiences we have in our lives are the connection we have with other people.  It’s good for our health, it’s good for our mind and we’re just happier when we are surrounded by great relationships.  A Harvard study which examined data from more than 300,000 people found that a lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%.  This effect on mortality is akin to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and has a greater impact than obesity and physical inactivity.

Positive and supportive relationships help relieve harmful levels of stress which can adversely affect our immune systems.  Conversely, caring behaviors such as offering help, advice or affection trigger the release of stress-reducing hormones which improve our body’s ability to fight disease and ward off emotional issues such as depression and anxiety.

This holiday season consider making one of your New Year’s resolutions a plan to strengthen your social relationships for the best possible happiness and success in 2014.   

8 tips for stronger, more positive relationships:

  1. Be present: Show genuine interest in other people and their lives by asking questions and stepping outside your own life in order to learn about someone else’s. Be fully present as you listen without distraction (looking at your cell phone or texting while someone is speaking is a good example of how not to be a good listener!). The act of true listening is a rare but simple gift you can give to others and it can actually have a transformative effect on someone’s life. 
  2. See the good in others: You will usually find what you look for in a relationship; meaning if you are always expecting the worst that is generally what you will find. Look for the positive in people and lift them up rather than putting them down. Over the years I have had several people come to their first counseling session with a notebook listing all the flaws in their partner, mother, son or daughter.  They bring this list so I can understand what they are dealing with. I listen, but to be fair, I make sure they work with me on a second list.  This list covers the things they like or used to like about the person and also includes the ways in which they will begin practicing acceptance.  Sometimes it’s not about changing someone but learning to accept them – flaws and all.  
  3. Be a positive influence: Take some time to see yourself from another person’s eyes. Do you get along with others?   Are you a complainer in conversations?  Theodore Roosevelt once said:  “The most important single ingredient in the formula for success is knowing how to get along with people.”  If you are a whirling force of negativity, people will eventually run the other way when they see you coming and you won’t be considered a valuable team player in any workplace.  Try sending out only your positive energy for a few days and see what happens. You will be amazed.
  4.  Embrace differences:  Learn to be more understanding and have more empathy by relating to another person’s feelings and needs without blaming, giving unwanted advice or trying to fix their situation.  Every person has a different way of looking at life.  Make an effort to understand the other person’s point of view and accept that the two of you may always see things differently. That’s okay.
  5.  Learn to accept constructive feedback: Be more open to hearing constructive feedback.  Consider it as free information or a different perspective. You can always choose whether you want to use it or leave it behind. If you are overly sensitive, you might become angry or defensive when you feel criticized, but you should instead use it to tap into your blind spot. That’s how you grow.
  6. Pick your battles:  Don’t expect to like everyone and don’t expect everyone to like you. You’re always going to get along with some people better than others and there may be a few you just can’t stand.  Practice tolerance and think of the old adage: treat people as you would like to be treated.
  7. Don’t jump to conclusions:  Many relationships have been damaged by people jumping to conclusions and thinking the worst about the other person. Gossip, for example, can fuel unnecessary conflicts between two people.  Try to give the person the benefit of the doubt and give them a chance to explain their side of the story. You would want them to do the same for you. 
  8. Be kind to yourself:  The ability to be kind to others is directly related to the ability to be kind to yourself.  Sometimes when people are hard on others, they are also hard on themselves.  If you find yourself having repeated conflicts in your relationships, it may be time to take a look at how well you are caring for yourself and valuing yourself.  Remember you can’t really love someone fully unless you fully love yourself.

The holidays can be stressful because we are spending more time with family and friends.  And, let’s be honest, some of them will get right under our skin.  Try using these tips to keep the conflicts to a minimum so that you can enjoy the season more fully. The added health benefits from having happier relationships is a nice plus.  The saying I found on the inside of my Dove Chocolate wrapper today captures it best:  “Those who bring sunshine to the lives of others cannot keep it from themselves.”  Enjoy the holidays!

Diane Lykes is a Principal of Synergy Counseling Associates in Albany where she specializes in individual and couples counseling, educational training and clinical consultation.  She can be reached at 466.3100 or lykes-synergy@nycap.rr.com.


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