Relationships as a Source of Happiness

Only if you remove the difficult ones!

Posted Aug 03, 2012

In a June 4, 2012, online Huffington Post article, Laura Rowley quotes a survey conducted by the AARP on sources of happiness. AARP’s sample group was over 4,000 people ages 35 and over. They wanted to know about the best sources of happiness, and found that if you want to be happy, you should focus on health, relationships, simple pleasures and achieving a sense of control of your well-being. The survey was about changing cycles of life and how happiness changes over time.

We know that research shows married couples to be happier, healthier, and overall in better shape than their unmarried counterparts, but the survey was intriguing to me for another reason. How happy are people who are in relationships with difficult people? Or are working with difficult colleagues? In my experience, when we are in a relationship and it isn’t working, not only are we not happy—we are miserable!

So if relationships can be a source of extreme happiness for us, and yet we aren’t in ones that are working well for us, what can we do? Here are some tips for taking those difficult people and turning them into positive relationships—if you can do so, it appears that happiness could await you!

If you have a difficult person in your family whom you have to interact with, or a colleague that you just can’t stand—next time you deal with them, consider taking one of these steps:

  • Realize you do have a choice. Remember that we always retain the right to our own response and our own reactions. The difficult person may do what they’ve always done, but you don’t have to respond in the way you always have in return. Choose this next interaction to break the cycle: Don’t get mad. Don’t get upset. Instead, become curious about them. Why do they do what they do? What does it trigger in you? Learn from the person, don’t give in to their negativity. Sometimes our best source of information about ourselves is actually watching our interactions with others. See other people as an opportunity to learn.
  • Remove yourself from the scene. Sometimes when a person we interact with a lot is particularly hurtful, or they become unbearable, it’s best to just quietly get up and leave the scene. Walk outside, go into another room, or strike up a conversation with someone else. Physically separate yourself from the person who is upsetting to you. If you can’t physically leave, mentally remove yourself. Can you sit there and instead of stewing, be able to think about a happy event, or hum (quietly) a happy tune, or remember a fond experience in the midst of having a difficult reaction? Try to find ways to give yourself room and bring your attention to something other than the person who is being difficult for you.
  • Define “difficult”. Remember that we all look at the world through our own lens of what we feel is “right” and what we feel is “wrong.” Our reactions and responses are truly an “opinion”—not fact, not data. Instead of having a rote reaction as you always have, catch yourself and consider whether your opinion of them is any more valid than their opinion of you!
  • Different people have different motivations. The reason political parties can’t get along, or people with strong views on one side dislike those with opposing views on the other, is that we believe different things are valuable and important in life. I want to help people at all costs; you want to make the most money possible and think it’s silly to hand it over to others. We aren’t going to see eye to eye, but instead of thinking “you’re bad” or “I’m stupid”, learn to respect others’ viewpoints even when you don’t agree.
  • Be careful about assuming you know what’s going on with that other person. Have you ever thought something about a person but then found out something entirely different about them? We assume too much in our communication. We assume we know what someone else means, because that’s what we would have meant in the same situation! Here’s where active and reflective listening is so key. We need to slow down and take the time to really listen and to check for understanding.
  • Learn the STOP! technique. As a hypnotherapist I teach this to patients. Whenever your mind starts to give you negative fuel and the fire grows and grows, make a conscious decision to just STOP! Place a red STOP! sign inside your mind. If you are somewhere and you can say the word “STOP!” even better. Then begin to list attributes, or traits, or something you can find positive about the person. Think about anything they do well, or have done that is nice for you in the past. Stop ruminating on how much you can’t stand them, and start to find things you like about them. They could possibly transform before your eyes.

Relationships are important and when they are broken, or we feel upset with someone, they can be all-consuming. Pick someone you find difficult this week and focus on them in a different way – not to avoid or dislike them, but to learn from them. Who knows? Maybe the person you think is difficult isn’t so bad after all and could be a key to your future happiness. Stranger things have happened.