How do you react to a friend, colleague or your spouse’s good news? How do you respond when they are late or forget something? Do you look for their mistakes? Do you assume that their actions were intended to offend, bother, annoy or irritate you?
Years of research and numerous studies have pretty clearly shown that long term successful relationships come down to just a few key components: generosity and kindness.
Specifically, do you look for the positive in others actions? And, do you try to offer kindness to the other, even when upset?
Most of the research and studies have focused on married couples, trying to understand why some couples stay together in happy relationships and others survive only a few years. But after working with many companies and organizations, the findings for couples are the same for any relationship—office colleague, friend or partner.
In The Atlantic, author Emily Esfahani Smith interviewed Psychologist John Gottman and his wife Julie. They have found that for those in long-term successful relationships:
they are scanning social environment for things they can appreciate and say thank you for. They are building this culture of respect and appreciation very purposefully. Disasters are scanning the social environment for partners’ mistakes.This is a very important observation, if we are focused on criticizing, we will miss the positive and tend to see negative actions even if they don’t exist.
People who are focused on criticizing their partners miss a whopping 50 percent of positive things their partners are doing and they see negativity when it’s not there.Neither of these two components are set points. We can change. We can improve.
There are two ways to think about kindness. You can think about it as a fixed trait: either you have it or you don’t. Or you could think of kindness as a muscle. In some people, that muscle is naturally stronger than in others, but it can grow stronger in everyone with exercise.How does this relate to meditation and mindfulness? The practice of quieting our mind provides us with an opportunity to notice the actions of others. It also slows down our own physiological response (fight or flee) and lets us overcome our ‘natural’ or ingrained habit of seeing the negative in another’s actions.
The practice of meditation won’t solve all of our work or personal relationship problems, but it can help shift our mind and our body towards more generosity and kindness.