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As we reflect on the past year, we often replay the scenes from our relationships that make up our memories of 2015. Not all of these relationships will have ended in a positive manner, but there are still lessons to be learned from them. Are there things we could have done better? Are there ways we could improve our relationships going forward?
Although it might sometimes feel like there isn’t a way to, that’s simply not true. While some relationships present more challenges than others, we can do a few simple things to help improve all of them. Whether it’s a lover, a best friend or a family member, we can make minor adjustments that often reap huge rewards in our relationships.
Here are 4 ways to improve your relationships in the new year:
Show Those Pearly Whites
Did you know that smiling releases the same happy chemicals in your brain that certain drugs activate? A smile sends the signal to your brain that things are good, releasing the “feel good” neurotransmitters known as dopamine, endorphins and serotonin. Through this release, your smile relaxes your body, helps relieve physical pain and acts as an anti-depressant. When you are in this happier state, you naturally interact with others in healthier ways.
Your smile also affects others. Research has shown that when people see a smile, the automatic response is to smile back. It’s so contagious that when research subjects were asked to frown at a smiling picture, they had to make a conscious effort to frown instead of smile. And when your smile is returned by another person, it creates the same happy chemical reaction in their body that you experienced.
When someone sees you smiling, it activates the reward portion of the brain, so your smile makes them feel rewarded. Not to mention that studies have also shown that you are considered more attractive when you smile. All of these effects improve relationships.
Give the Gift of Compliments
Of course, these compliments must be genuine because flattery does not help create healthier relationships. But when honestly spoken, compliments let others know we notice them, value them and appreciate them. They create positive feelings between us, help us focus on strengths instead of flaws and cultivate optimistic attitudes.
As you seek to find ways to compliment others, try to be specific. The best compliments focus on a particular action or quality rather than a general or vague statement. (“The colors you added to this room are amazing” vs. “The house looks great.”
Make “Thank You” Everyday Vocabulary
We all learned this one in kindergarten, but that’s why we need to circle back and refocus on it. It’s so simple that we often take it for granted and underestimate its power. Saying thank you to others can have an immense effect on our relationships. When others feel we appreciate them, our relationships with them will be healthier.
Saying thank you actually encourages others to help us more in the future. It reassures them that you not only appreciate their actions, but that whatever they did was helpful, needed and valued. This makes similar efforts more likely to happen again.
Forgive and Move On
This one is a lot tougher than a quick smile, but we often make it more complicated than it needs to be. What are you holding onto that you could simply let go of as you move into the new year? Too often, we allow past mistakes (either our own or our loved one’s) to drive a wedge between us. It could take a simple (but hard) decision to forgive that will close that gap and heal the relationship.
If we want healthier relationships, we have to let go of anger, bitterness, hatred, resentment and regret. It’s not always easy, but as we focus on gratitude and encouragement, we can start to dissolve these feelings of the past and let forgiveness drive us to healthier relationships for the future.