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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me

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Action 6

Look for the good in those around you

It's easy to take our nearest and dearest for granted. Constant criticism can be highly destructive, but we often fall into this trap, especially in established relationships. But if we take time to bring to mind what we value and appreciate about others, we can both get more enjoyment from our time together.

Why do it?

Research shows that focusing on the good things that happen to us each day helps to increase our happiness. And the same is true for our close relationships too. Psychologist John Gottman has carried out extensive research in to what makes relationships work or fail. His research has shown that constant criticism is highly destructive.

Yet it's so easy to fall into this trap, especially in established relationships. After all, as human beings, evolution has caused us to be naturally on the look out for what's wrong rather than what's right.

Gottman suggests that for happy relationships we should actually aim for five positive interactions with our partner for every negative one. He suggests that we consciously aim to achieve this balance by showing affection, saying thank you and thinking about what we value in our partners and other loved ones.

Where to start

Focus on a partner, close friend or family member and take time to think through the following questions - in each case try to note down specific examples:

1. What drew you to your partner or your friend when you first met?
2. What things have you really enjoyed doing together during your relationship?
3. What things do you really appreciate about them right now?
4. What are their strengths?

Then (and this is the important bit!), when you're with that person take the time to notice and acknowledge these things - their strengths, the things they do that you really appreciate, the happy times you've shared together and so on.

  • "I really love it when you… "
  • "You're so good at… "
  • "Seeing you do… reminds me of that fantastic day when we… "

It's unlikely to be practical to do this type of reflection for everyone we know. But we can still use the same principles to improve all our relationships.

For example, before spending time with someone, take a moment just to think about the things you like, appreciate or admire about them or how they make you feel good.

Similarly, after spending time with someone, think about the things you appreciated or what you enjoyed about your time together.

References

[1] Gottman, J.W. The Relationship Cure

[2] Gottman, J.W. Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work

[3] Lyubomirsky, S. (2007). The How of Happiness. London: Penguin Books

[4] Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Flourish: A visionary new understanding of happiness and well-being. New York: Free Press

[5] Seligman, M. E. P., Steen, T. A., Park, N., & Peterson, C. (2005). Positive psychology progress: Empirical validation of interventions. American Psychologist, 60, 410-421

[6] Flückiger, C. & Grosse Holtforth, M. (2008) Focusing the Therapist's Attention on the Patient's Strengths: A Preliminary Study to Foster a Mechanism of Change in Outpatient Psychotherapy. Journal Of Clinical Psychology, 64, 876-890

Resources

Inspiring words

"There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved"

- George Sand

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Together we're stronger

Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support has been shown to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we get older.

Not having close personal ties has been shown to pose significant risks for our health.

Make time for the people that matter

"Life's short and we never have enough time for the hearts of those who travel the way with us. O, be swift to love! Make haste to be kind"

Henri-Frederic Amiel

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