Do These 4 Things to Be Happier and Improve Your Relationship

Our understanding of emotions keeps growing thanks to scientific research. This includes the work of Dacher Keltner, a psychology professor at U.C. Berkeley. He has investigated the topic of what makes us happy and also examined relationship satisfaction.  From this research, he developed some ideas we can all follow in order to increase our happiness and improve the quality our relationships.

Idea #1:  Smile!

While the act of smiling itself does not cause you to be happy, the more often you smile the happier you can be. Keltner and other researchers wanted to test that belief by looking at, of all things, yearbook graduation photos! They compared yearbook photos of graduating women to determine whether they could predict future happiness just from the facial expressions of the women in these pictures.  

The results, amazingly, found that the quality of one’s smile did, in fact, predict future happiness! They concluded that those who had a warmer smile had increased rates of happiness and contentedness 20-30 years later. This should be reason enough for you to smile more!

Idea #2:  Laughter

In his book, Born to Be Good:  The Science of a Meaningful Life, Keltner described how laughter is a key component in business affairs, flirtatiousness, and even in the quality of relationships. He referenced research that found that the absence of laughter actually predicts the end of a relationship. In the early stages of marriage, partnerships tend to end due to incompatibility issues. However, the absence of laughter tends to doom marriages when the partners have been together for a long time.  

Laughter has a calming effect and softens the blow when couples are in conflict or coping with challenging life circumstances.  Keltner states that:

“We often think laughter is not that consequential.  We tell people not to laugh. Life is serious, but there may be no more serious antidote to living and no greater path to finding wisdom, than laughter.”

Idea #3:  Touch

Research shows that even small amounts of touching between people can make a big difference in the feelings of connectedness with one another. Touching also promotes a sense of cooperation with others. In one study, the more physical contact between members of an NBA basketball team (such as high-fives), the better the team played at the end of the season compared to the beginning. It does intuitively make sense that touch makes a difference in relationships by promoting the sense that you are both on the same side and that you care about each other.

Idea #4:  Teasing Your Partner

Playful teasing is another habit that promotes and contributes to relationship longevity. It was found that the more satisfied couples were in their relationship, the more skilled they were at teasing each other. Teasing helped predict how happy couples were six months later after the study. In addition to laughter, teasing in a playful, good-natured way during disagreements helps to soften the conflict between partners. It is also a predictor for how long couples stay together. Although fairly obvious, it should be noted that mean-spirited teasing is not helpful and can definitely damage relationships. Stick to well-meaning and playful teasing!

Keltner and other researchers are finding that some of the keys to happiness and relationship satisfaction are significantly influenced by these types of “little things” or behaviors we follow. By doing the little things such as smiling and laughing more, as well as touching and teasing, partners can make a big difference in the quality of their relationships. For those struggling in their relationships, the lesson here is to go back to basics. We can slowly increase happiness and relationship satisfaction. Although these actions are simple, they can have powerful and rewarding consequences.

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