When you're 80 years old and facing the end of your long life -- a life hopefully well-lived -- what will have been the biggest predictor of whether you would flourish throughout your life or not? A hint: It's not money, physical or mental health or social support. It's about one highly-significant variable.
The probability of a happy life can be boiled down to this: the quality of your relationships.
With so much at stake regarding relationships, it's worth considering a few common ways we hijack the very thing we need the most.
You think your happiness is dependent on someone else.
We often think that if we can change another person's response to us or how they relate to us, then we will be happier or more fulfilled. We say, "If you will change your behavior or condition, then as I observe it, I will feel better." In other words, we give others the responsibility for how we feel.
You are only responsible for you. The road to better relationships always starts with you. Rather than attempt to control another person, work on becoming a better version of yourself. Healthier relationships will then come to you as a result.
You either don't know or don't accept who you really are and look for external validation.
When we are unhappy with ourselves, we look to others to fill in the gaps of our fluctuating sense of self.
When I was 20, I craved people telling me how smart I was. I needed people to respect me and find me interesting. Popularity was a badge of worth -- even if fabricated -- that I could use to validate what I needed to believe about myself.
With a very shaky sense of who I really was, I would grab on to any low-hanging fruit that would give me a semblance of an identity. For a 20-year-old launching out of adolescence, this is completely normal.
But unfortunately, some of us never outgrow this need for validation. We spend decades looking for others to tell us who we are or what we're good at. We did it at 13. We still do it at 30.
Instead of spending time figuring out who we are -- our preferences, interests and hard-wired personality, we mold ourselves into a distorted version of who we truly are. We change who we are because we think that our odds for love and acceptance will be greater.
This could not be further from the truth.
Be you. Be powerful and opinionated about ideas you're passionate about. Be vulnerable with people you trust. Express emotions. Be lighthearted and naive -- ask questions about topics you don't understand. And don't apologize for your values. They are your guides.
You judge yourself, which leads to hyper-judgment toward others.
What you judge most harshly in others is what you judge most harshly in yourself.
Who do you criticize? Your husband? Boss? Mother?
What behaviors do you judge in others? Vanity? Short-sightedness? Lack of self-respect?
How you answer these questions reveals a lot about how you regard yourself. It's important to know that criticism and judgment come from the same source: shame.
Shame turned inward is self-criticism -- turned outward it sits as a self-righteous judge of others. Judging others puts you in a one-up position with the illusory promise of power.
We say, "Look at what an impatient mother you are as you yell at your kids," when we're really saying to ourselves, "I find my own impatience intolerable. I'm such a terrible mother if I feel or act that way." Judgment keeps us in a place of disconnection. We cannot be authentically connected to others when we hold them at arm's length with our daggers of judgment.
You allow others to treat you with disrespect.
One of my favorite sayings is, "We teach others how to treat us."
You are in control of how others treat you. You decide what you will and won't allow into your life. You are not a victim, but a co-creator with others in how your story plays out. When you allow others to abuse, demean or disrespect you, you collude with them in your own destruction.
And the best antidote to dealing with disrespect is to create and maintain boundaries. Boundaries serve as the force field of self-respect that buffers you from the people that don't have your best interests in mind. Boundaries nudge you toward walking away when someone's being an ass. They embolden you to firmly stand up for your values. They protect you when your personal worth is being challenged.
Want a path to a life well-lived? Take time to nurture and savor your closest relationships.
Famously said by a pioneer in positive psychology, "Happiness is love. Full stop."
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