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July 8, 2013
On the Path to Finding Happiness: Part 4
It’s been about two weeks of keeping my gratitude journal, and already I recognize how much more aware I am of my happiness levels on a day-to-day basis. By taking the time to write at least one thing down each night, and focusing in on my accomplishments, I feel more empowered and optimistic both in my personal and professional life. For anyone who took my advice, I hope you are finding this approach useful in exercising your gratitude muscle.
This week, our happiness training took a different approach, honing in on our relationships to those around us, both positive as well as negative. Among the most important facets of a happy life are a person’s individual social relationships. In short, happiness can also be measured in the number of strong, healthy relationships in a one’s life. The exercise for this session was to think about ten people we spend the most time with on a regular basis. Then, we were asked to evaluate how much they nurture us, and how much we nurture them on a scale of one to ten. Of course there are several interpretations of what nurturing means to each individual. By charting the time we spend with each person versus how much we get out of each relationship, we are able determine which relationships are most beneficial to our happiness and which relationships are detrimental.
For me, beyond my husband and a friend or two, a typical day consists of interactions with coworkers and clients. In exploring this further, I realized how valuable one coworker in particular is to my happiness at the office. This person is someone who I rely on for advice and guidance in my career; someone who is always able to offer a different perspective that calms me down when I feel overwhelmed. This individual is my “sounding board” and the realization about the value of our relationship has allowed me to modify the way in which I approach and engage with her in daily life. While she is still the one I run to when a fire drill email arrives, she is now someone I will maximize my time with when things are also going well.
So how can we increase time spent with those that provide you the most nurturing relationships?
  • Pay more attention to the relationships that matter most and make every effort to stay positive in those relationships.
  • Be honest and direct with those you appreciate; never let lack of communication get in your way.
  • Little things go a long way; send an unsolicited thank you letting them know how much they impacted your life,
  • Schedule time with someone that you can learn from; a mentor that can guide you through your career is worth spending time with.  
  • Always be in the “now” when you are with that individual that brings you happiness. Whether it is a friend, spouse, or a coworker, don’t be distracted about the things around you that you can’t change.
On the other end of the spectrum, there are still those not-so-great relationships that we all encounter and must learn to navigate. Whether it is a nasty neighbor, a challenging client, or an opinionated relative, these relationships, while sometimes vital, can have a great impact on our happiness levels. So how can we improve the detrimental relationships? 
  • Some relationships are unavoidable. In these instances, it’s important to take control of the relationship and explore ways in which you could improve it for the better. It may never be perfect, but it will give you a better experience overall.
  • Recognize that you can’t change people. Instead focus on changing yourself, finding ways in which you can remain positive and not allow a person’s behaviors or words to impact your life.
  • And when possible, limit the amount of time you spend with people that bring you down.
I encourage you to explore each relationship you encounter throughout the day, as it will set you on the path to a more positive day, both at home and at work. Think about where each person falls on your spectrum, and try to find ways in which you can either modify yourself or try to best steer the conversation toward a place of happiness.

For Part 1, go here. For Part 2, go here. For Part 3, go here

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Karen Kwarta heads the Digital practice at MEC. She has been with the agency for over three years, and was previously a Group Director. Prior to her roles at MEC she was an Account Director at Razorfish. She has her BBA in Marketing from University of Michigan.
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