Human beings are social animals. To be our best selves, we need other people.
But those relationships demand work, patience, and understanding.
How can you make your relationships as happy as possible in 2019?
Think about three things: You, the other person, and the relationship itself.
The philosopher Bertrand Russell (1872-1970) observed that “most people are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.”
If it’s raining, at least it’s not cold. If it’s cold, at least you have a warm home. And if you’re alive, you almost always have a chance to make tomorrow better than today.
You often can’t control external events in the world. But you can control your attitude toward them.
With very few exceptions, you can choose to be happy. You can focus on the good instead of the bad.
By all means, deal with the bad; but don’t let it define you, your life, or your relationships.
Instead, you take control and define them yourself. You have that power.
The other person
In the first flush of love (or even just friendship), it’s easy to idealize the other person. And that’s fine, as long as you season it with a dash of realism.
Even if you’re both wonderful people, you’ll sometimes have conflicting priorities. You’ll sometimes annoy each other. You’ll sometimes say things you don’t mean and later regret.
Accept the other person as a real human being, who has flaws and sometimes makes mistakes.
Learn to work around the flaws and forgive the mistakes.
And don’t mind-read. You don’t know what the other person’s private thoughts are. If you need to know, ask. But don’t stew in anger over what you believe without evidence.
The only relationships with no problems are the trivial ones. The reason they have no problems is that we don’t care much if they work out or not.
Our most important relationships have problems precisely because we care about them so much. They can bring us joy but they can also wound us.
Happy relationships aren’t problem-free: they’ve just learned to accept and resolve their problems.
In October 1730, American Founder Benjamin Franklin published some “Rules for Marriage” that apply to relationships generally. Paraphrased:
- The best way to have a good friend or good spouse is to be one yourself.
- Don’t try to manipulate people. Treat them with respect.
- Don’t expect trouble-free happiness — “nor promise yourself felicity without alloy, for that’s impossible.”
- “Resolve every morning to be good-natured and cheerful that day.”
- “Deny yourself the trivial satisfaction of having your own way” if it’s going to cause a big argument. Relationships involve give and take. Sometimes you take, and other times you give.
Check out my new book Why Sane People Believe Crazy Things: How Belief Can Help or Hurt Social Peace. Kirkus Reviews called it ” a thoughtful consideration of torrid intellectual disputes.”