Something that has made me very happy lately has been the launch of my internet movie, The Years Are Short (and the movie is short, too – just one minute). Check it out!
Everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers to religious leaders agrees: a KEY to happiness is having close relationships with other people.
As Bertrand Russell pointed out, “To like many people spontaneously and without effort is perhaps the greatest of all sources of personal happiness.”
But what if you’re having trouble liking other people? When I meet people, I often feel distracted, wary, or self-absorbed, instead of friendly.
I’ve discovered a trick.
Research shows that although we think that we act because of the way we feel, in fact, we often feel because of the way we act. That’s why one of my Twelve Commandments (see left-hand column) is to Act the way I want to feel.
As improbable as it may sound, it really works. Try it. If you don’t like the way you’re feeling, act as you’d like to feel—and your feelings will change. It’s uncanny.
So if you want to have warmer relationships with people, act more warmly.
I started a strategy that I call the “You’re my friend from camp!” technique. When I meet someone, I try to imagine that he or she is a long-last pal from summer camp. Even though I don’t really fool myself, it makes my tone and attitude warmer. My smile is sincere, instead of a perfunctory grimace. I honestly feel more friendly.
And not only does this strategy make me feel more friendly to that person, it also makes that person feel more friendly in return.
That’s because we tend to like people who like us.
This just happened to me. There’s a woman I encounter regularly whom I’d describe as an “acquaintance.” When I came back from winter vacation, she was suddenly much friendlier to me. In return, I felt much more friendly towards her – even though nothing had changed.
In a nutshell: by acting friendly, we make ourselves feel more friendly, and as a consequence, others respond in a friendly way. Science backs this up. A study found that when volunteers were asked to treat subjects as if they liked them, these volunteers did indeed end up genuinely liking those people — and the subjects, too, liked the volunteers better.
When I was in sixth grade, my classroom had a poster that said, “If you want to make a friend, be a friend.” I guess that just because a piece of advice can be found on a Snoopy poster doesn’t mean that it’s not worth trying.
From 2006 through 2014, as she wrote The Happiness Project and Happier at Home, Gretchen chronicled her thoughts, observations, and discoveries on The Happiness Project Blog.