5 Quick, Easy Habits that Have Actually Strengthened My Relationships.

When people think about changing their habits, they often think of the diet-and-exercise family of habits.

Also, as much as I personally love habits, I know that many people associate habit-change with having to make a lot of effort.

But habits don’t have to take a lot of time or energy to form, and they can help us with any aspect of our lives. I have to admit, even now, after spending years thinking about habits, I’m astonished by how much a truly tiny habit can boost happiness.

For instance, here are some examples of a few quick, easy habits that I’ve adopted to strengthen my relationships. They’re all practically effortless, they all make me happier.

These kinds of habits are particularly helpful to me, because the truth is, I can get lost in my own head, and become so focused on crossing something off my to-do list that I neglect to make time to connect with the people who are most important to me. In the tumult of everyday life, I find it all too easy to overlook what really matters.

So I’ve made these habits:

1. I kiss my husband first thing in the morning, and I kiss him last thing at night.

It might sound silly to schedule kisses — but for me, if it’s on the calendar, it gets done, and if not, not. That’s the power of the Strategy of Scheduling!

2. Our family gives each other a real “hello” and “good-bye” every time one of us comes or goes.

When our two daughters were little, they’d greet me and my husband with wild enthusiasm whenever we walked in the door, and often cried miserably when we left. Then we went through a period when barely looked up from their own games or homework or books when we walked in or out — and I was a major offender in this area, myself. So we made a family resolution to “Give warm greetings and farewells.”  For instance, instead of letting my older daughter yell, “I’m leaving” before she disappears out the door to go to school, I call, “Wait, wait,” and hurry to give her a real hug and a real good-bye.  As a consequence, each day, several times, we have moments of real connection among all members of our family. (Want to read more about this? Check out my book Happier at Home.)

3. With my parents and sister, I do “updates.”

This was my mother’s idea. We’ve all noticed that when you see people all the time, you have a lot to say to them; when you talk to them more rarely, it’s easy to fall into a “What’s new?” “Not much, what’s new with you?” type conversation. So the four of us do “updates.” Every few days, we send an email with the subject line of “update,” we give the most basic details of what we’re doing, and we rarely reply to each other. Our motto is “It’s okay to be boring.” Elizabeth and I discuss it here. We’ve heard from so many people who have started this habit!

4. Before my daughters go to bed each night, I spend some time with each girl, holding her in my arms and talking about her day.

It’s interesting: growing up, my family wasn’t at all demonstrative, and I never thought about it, or doubted that my parents loved me. But my family now is super lovey-dovey. Which I very much enjoy. I like having a habit that means that I get some time, each day, to be close both physically and mentally with each of my daughters — a time that’s just for the two of us.

5. I send an email whenever there’s any possible reason to congratulate or compliment a friend.

I used to be very lax about this, but now I make it a very deliberate habit to reach out whenever I have an excuse. For instance, I walked by a friend’s townhouse the other day, and it had a gorgeous arrangement of pumpkins–so I sent an email. A friend’s book got an award, so I sent an email. These little gestures make a difference, over time.

The thing is, we have can have the very best of intentions — but never get around to giving that good-morning kiss or sending that friendly email.  And that’s where habits can help.

Habits are freeing and energizing because they get us out of the draining, difficult business of making decisions and using our self-control. When something’s important to us, and we want it to happen frequently, making it into a habit means that it does happen, and without a lot of fuss.

What habits have you adopted, that have strengthened your habits?

To get more ideas about some helpful habits to follow, and even more, to get ideas about how to change your habits, check out my (bestselling) book, Better Than Before. Everything is revealed! It turns out that it’s not that hard to change your habits — once you know what to do.

  • Hashi

    My boyfriend and I keep very different hours, so we have a book that we write each other notes in. When I get up in the morning, I read the message he’s written while I slept. And when he awakes after I’ve left for work, there’s usually a note from me. After a few years of living together, we’re half way through our second book, and I’m happy at the thought of records of our thoughtful communication accumulating over time. It might be just, “Have a wonderful day, I love you!” but it sure is nice to wake up to.

    • mom2luke

      My son had a lot of different therapists when he was younger and they had a red “communication notebook” where they did the same thing. I loved to read it as it was full of details about him that they did not necessarily get a chance to tell me and ideas to try regarding his problem behaviors as well as small victories in his progress. Low tech, but effective.

  • diana

    The mainstay habit – my twin sons, my husband and I have a nice dinner together almost every night. Another habit is that one of my sons and I make a recipe together every week. He finds the recipe, emails it to me and I buy the ingredients. And I have a mental habit I started this summer, where I “focus on boys’ strengths” – this instruction is in my habits app on my phone and I check it off each day. I started it because I realized I was only focusing on my teenage boys’ shortcomings and not their strengths. This has powerfully changed my mindset. I also end up complementing them a lot more, which I can tell they like.

    • A friend’s family had a set dinner time. Basically, someone would make dinner (whoever was home) and everyone else would know if they arrived at home at that time, it would be family dinner. If they didn’t make it on time, no biggie (leftovers would be kept for them), but because it was at a fixed hour, it was like this shared time that you could count on. This was a family with four kids (at the time I met them, they were all already 18+), and friends were always welcome as well. Of course, often someone would have something to attend in the evening, but because you knew there was this fixed time, you’d often make the effort to get home. Tbh, I think their “dinner habit” developed from having a large family (+ often guests & friends), lots of different schedules and chaos in the house, so this was one definite thing that everyone could always look forward to.

  • I try to remember to voice compliments. Often I find myself thinking, “her hair looks nice” or “she’s really good with people” but I don’t always say what I’m thinking. I’m trying to remember to relay those thoughts verbally.

    • gretchenrubin

      That’s a good one!

  • William Brams

    Sending an e mail is a good idea. Even better and really special is to send a personal note to someone. A lot of extra effort but a really big payoff in appreciation.

  • I love these habits! I also try to kiss my husband right away in the morning and at bedtime. I’ve also made it a habit to thank him for work he does around the house or errands he runs for me – I find that we are much more appreciative about what each other does when we express our gratitude for each other!

  • Jean

    I try to thank my husband, son, coworkers, and others for the things that they do even if they are part of the flow of the day or job, and to tell them frequently and sincerely that I appreciate them. The same goes for thanking individuals with whom I interact during the day from sales people to the toll taker. Now, I look for times to show gratitude and kindness to others, compliment it when it is paid to me, and feel good about the encounter.

  • Andrea

    Growing up, my mother used to always kiss us on the cheek any time we’d leave the house to go somewhere. She never made a big deal about it, she just did it. I hadn’t realized how ingrained it was until my brother and I (both long grown up and on our own) were home visiting my folks for the holidays. My brother decided to run out to do some last minute Christmas shopping and accidentally left his wallet on the counter. My mom saw it and yelled “hey, wait up!”. Not realizing he’d left his wallet, he stopped and stuck out his cheek for his kiss!

    • gretchenrubin

      So sweet!

  • Melissa Clawson

    Gretchen! This post was superb! I love how concise your writing is! You always consolidate and articulate thoughts perfectly. Thank you! I plan on incorporating each one of these habits into my relationships. I’ve read your first book and thoroughly enjoyed it and plan on reading your others as well. Thank you for your research and insight!

    • gretchenrubin

      Terrific. Thanks so much for the kind words!

  • Patrice

    Gretchen, I am so happy to report that these habits are a part of our daily lives! My husband and I have always kissed first thing in the morning and last at night and whenever we leave each other or return. Several years ago I participated in your Boot Camp Perfect-21 day challenge. I shared the habits with my family. We continue to embrace them. Thank you so much for this gift!

    • gretchenrubin


  • diana

    I send thank you emails to hosts of dinners and parties. This extends the warm glow from the actual event – I feel happy sending the email (and often there is a return email that gives me pleasure).

  • Lea

    I love these ideas and are trying to do them more in our household! Could I get some advice on #3? My parents are divorced and not always on the friendliest of terms. How could I incorporate some version of this updates list with my parents and sister, without sending to each individually (or to mom&sister and dad&sister)? But maybe that is the only solution! Thanks, I love listening to your podcast!

    • Vee

      I’d recommend simply sending one update email, but BCCing the recipients, instead of CCing, so they can’t see who else you have sent the email to. Then keep the update neutral (“Hello!” vs “Hi mum and dad,”). If there are more personal details aimed at one individual in particular, I’d send them an additional email to just them.

  • Diane Lowy

    Thank you so much for this reminder. You’re right! Moments that confirm our place in our community and in our family make us happy. What better way to cultivate these moments than with habits?

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  • Freddy Raymond

    This good relationship should be in a company or the business too, for having the better profit out off your work. This can be done by the complete info on the employees laws and agreements.

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