What do you care about in life? Being popular? Ballin’ in a Benz? Lookin’ sexy dipped freshly in that new apparel? Or do you care about success? Happiness? Becoming a better person? And contributing to something larger than yourself?

If you’re like me, you care about happiness. And with no shortage of scientific research emerging, we know now that happiness *precedes* success and enables us to perform at a higher level – in turn making us more successful.

But happiness can be elusive and chasing it directly can be misleading. Pop-culture can’t save us and giant-corporations are making money off of our misery (feel shitty, buy our product, raise your self-esteem). So what’s a person like me and you to do?

Last Sunday we spoke about Giving Yourself The Permission To Be Human. The topic arose courtesy of a conversation I had with a happiness hero of mine, the guy who taught the most popular class at Harvard of all time, Mr. Tal Ben-Shahar.

One prolific insight which the scientific research reminds us of is this:

The most important component of our well-being is the quality of our relationships and the amount of time we invest and engage in nurturing them.

Word up. That IS pretty prolific.

But not all of us are extroverted… So does that mean that if we don’t enjoy small talk we’re doomed to be miserable?

I grew up oscillating between Washington Heights (dad’s house) and Flushing Queens (mom’s crib). It wasn’t always peachy and the importance of engaging with extended family and large flocks of friends wasn’t existent. I learned how to fend for dolo – and being from Queens (granted, a relatively safe part), Mobb Deep taught me all I needed to know about Survival of the Fittest.

You know, I’m as big an Emerson fan as the next self-proclaimed street philosopher, but self-reliance can become a contorted notion, and the reality may reflect we’re emotionally depleted living in social isolation.

Relationships matter. You know this. Can you imagine living without your two best friends, or without your few closest family members? Even our animal companions which warm our heart can mean the world to us. (Krylon + Prisma, all day!)

Stepping outta my comfort zone and leaping into vulnerability (making Brene proud) – I’ve contemplated suicidal thoughts, on multiple occasions, during several era’s of my existence. And when I sat down with the pen and pad to ponder the possibilities and conjure up a list of the reasons why pulling the plug was an absolutely horrific idea, I couldn’t come up with any.

What I COULD come up with was PEOPLE. I listed name, after name, after name, after name. And these were my reasons for moving through the mental-terror and emotionally turbulent times. I know you understand this.

So when Tal reminded me that the #1 predictor of your overall well-being was directly correlated to your relationships, I had to drill him deeper into HOW we can create these high quality relationships which positive-psychology swears by.

Creating Extraordinary Relationships

1. The Most Important Relationship.

Know which one this is? It’s the one you have with yourself. In order to love someone else, we’ve gotta learn to (non-narcissistically, non-self-caressingly) love ourselves. It’s hard to give someone something you don’t have, so start by taking care of yourself with the fundamentals: Exercise, express gratitude, engage with what excites you, get enough sleep, watch some comedy, listen to dope music, and practice self-acceptance. You are your most important relationship.

2. Embrace Vulnerability.

The ability to allow yourself to be seen – truly seen, with your obscure idiosyncrasies and insecurities – is how people empathetically relate to each other. Whether it’s connecting with a family member who you’ve been outta contact with – or going to talk to that person who you’ve had “the-interested-eye” for – or even just connecting with your friends in a deeper, more revealing way. Connection is why we’re here! It’s what gives purpose and meaning to our lives. And in order for connection to happen, we have to allow ourselves to be seen – authentically and vulnerably.

3. Be Fully Engaged.

When you’re with people, be with them. To really get to know and create deep authentic connections with people, we need to be focused on THEM – not on Russel Simmon’s latest tweet or Kim Kardashian’s latest Instagram flick. In regards to technology, we need to disconnect in order to connect. I’ve developed a pet-peeve in the last 24 months. When I’m talking to someone and they’re looking at their phone, I simply stop talking. If what I’m saying isn’t powerful enough to command your full engagement, I’d rather not talk until it is. When you’re with someone, be with them.

4. Schedule Time.

Create appointments in your week to connect with people you care about in person (or deeply engaged in a phone call). You can create reoccurring rituals with people you REALLY care about. Sunday is the day when you see your pops. Tuesday you see your niece. And every two Saturday’s you chill with your homeboys. Schedule time.

5. Have Realistic Expectations.

That is, in regards to romantic relationships. The Titanic and The Notebook have primed us for emotional erosion  People don’t fall in love over night. Relationships don’t exist without challenges, and [*spoiler alert*], you’re not marrying Leonardo DiCaprio and living happily ever after. Movies end where love begins. The honeymoon phase is intoxicating but it’s short-lived and real relationships involve challenges and resolutions. Expect that. And enjoy it. Because stress (like muscles) can make something grow stronger over time. Don’t ditch a relationship over a disagreement. Have realistic expectations.

6. Dive In Deep.

And get to know someone better. Engage with them: Ask them what energizes them, what makes them come alive, what they get excited about, what they love to do – and meet them there! In order words, talk about *those* topics!! Figure out when it is that THE REAL THEM arises and talk to THAT person! Is it when they’re discussing the environment, or the election, or sushi, or cats, or football? Find out! Even if these aren’t your ideal topics, enthusiasm is contagious, and once we engage with people in the area of their personal passion, we’re often swept along with them!

7. Support Peeps.

Be there for ’em in time of challenge and hardship. Shit, we all need a support system and sometimes the resource in highest demand is a non-judgmental compassionate ear to chew. D-lish. Let your homey know that you’re there for them, and that if shit hits the fan, or even if they need someone to vent to, you’ll be happy to support them in any way you can. Don’t just tell them this – show it to them! Lead with actions. Support peeps.

8. Celebrate Peeps’ Successes.

You know someone who had a good week at work? Party with ’em like YOU were the one who made the commissions. You know someone who got accepted to present at a conference they’re passionate about? Shit – that calls for drinks! This article talks about the work Shelly Gable has done on understanding relationships. Here’s an exact quote from the article.

{allert} Consider the following example [Shelly] often gives to illustrate: Your significant other comes home, beaming, and announces that he just got a great promotion at work. You could react with:

1. An active constructive response. “That’s great, you’ve earned it, I’m so proud of you!” followed by questions. This conveys enthusiasm, support, and interest.

2. A passive constructive response. “Great job, honey!” then shifting to the next topic. Like dinner.

3. An active destructive response (what Gable dubs “finding the cloud in a silver lining response”). “Wow! Does this mean you’ll be working later hours? Are they going to be paying you more? I can’t believe they picked you out of all the candidates.” Just generally deflating.

4. A passive destructive response. Can take either of two forms: “Wow! Wait until I tell you what happened to me today,” which is very self-focused, or, “What’s for dinner?”—ignoring the event altogether. {/allert}

Response number 1 is the best possible way to react. Rock with that! All other responses border on douche-ism. Don’t be that douche.

The Greatest Challenge

Turns out, Tal thinks that arguably the greatest challenge which peeps like you, me, and others of our generation are facing is dealing with technology.

Make no mistake – technology is the shizznitt and without it you and I would have no relationship (expect you Mom – hey!). But it is undoubtedly an immensely powerful tool which can work FOR us or AGAINST us – just like fire.

The downside of tech is that it’s become a substitute for many of our real flesh and blood relationships. Yeah, you’ve got a few hundred Facebook friends and there’s a caravan of strange peeps following you on twitter. But that more often than not doesn’t create the same quality of relationships that psychically sharing a space with someone can. We pay a high price when we rely solely on the internet for our social life.

Tal talks about research showing that people are loosing the capacity for empathy and compassion because they’re not spending enough time with each other.

And here’s a little wisdom from Jonathan Haidt, world-class thinker, NYU professor and author of The Happiness Hypothesis (who I’ll be interviewing next month!):

“If you want to predict how happy someone is, or how long she will live (and if you are not allowed to ask about her genes or personality), you should find out about her social relationships. Having strong social relationships strengthens the immune system, extends life (more than does quitting smoking), speeds recovery from surgery, and reduces the risks of depression and anxiety disorders.

It’s not just that extroverts are naturally happier and healthier; when introverts are forced to be more outgoing, they usually enjoy it and find that it boosts their mood. Even people who think they don’t want a lot of social contact still benefit from it. And it’s not just that ‘We all need somebody to lean on’; recent work on giving support shows that caring for others is often more beneficial than is receiving help.

We need to interact and intertwine with others; we need the give and the take; we need to belong. An ideology of extreme personal freedom can be dangerous because it encourages people to leave homes, jobs, cities, and marriages in search of personal and professional fulfillment, thereby breaking the relationships that were probably their best hope for such fulfillment.”


So get on it. You’ve got 8 things you can do above to increase the quality of your relationships and consequently invest in your own well-being. Which ones are you gonna apply and when (now) do you think will be a good time to apply them? Let us know in the…


I’d also love to know your thoughts on relationships. How do you maintain the relationships in your life? What are some of the best ways you know to connect with people? What insights would you offer to the younger you about the topic? (Or what insights would the younger you offer the current you on the topic?!) Drop a comment. We luv ’em.

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