It turns out focusing on other people can be a source of newfound happiness, even during rough times.
I’ve had a pretty good year, albeit with tough spots, mostly that come with raising teenagers. Last year I made a deal with myself, a resolution of sorts, that when I felt sad, I would consciously focus on being a better friend and better person to others. My logic was this — if my parenting role wasn’t going so well, at least I could feel good about being a better friend and citizen.
When I had a rough morning, I called my buddies. But instead of telling them about my difficulties, I would ask them how they were doing and talk about the situations they were facing. Becoming more immersed in their lives not only distracted me, and gave me perspective on my issues, but it brought me closer to my friends as I began to understand their thoughts and emotions at a deeper level. Over the past year, my friendships have become more meaningful and richer as a result of this change.
Here are some of the insights I’ve gained about focusing on others:
People are very interesting
Other people have such interesting and diverse circumstances. It is normal to get caught up in our own lives and dramas, so much so it is easy to forget that there is an entire world living and doing pretty darn cool things. Even asking others about the details in what they do day to day at work can be very eye-opening. Practicing active listening can be intriguing. It can also encourage us to be more tolerant of different ways of thinking.
I have a friend who manages workers from all over South America. In one phone conversation, she explained to me how certain towns rank higher in the social ranks than others and how it made it difficult to put one person in charge who was from a town that was considered lower on the social scale. Neither of us subscribes to this way of thinking, but it was a reality that she had to contend with in her position.
Understanding this cultural nuance gave me a new perspective on individuals from that region. I also admired the way my friend handled that circumstance as a manager.
Sometimes answers are held in other people’s perspectives
Just talking to people about varying topics can lead to a shift in perspective which can often give insight into your own circumstances. For instance, I have a great friend who tells me about the business she owns in the performing arts. She has been forced to deal with individuals reacting negatively and creating tension.
Discussing how she handled them while remaining professional gave me ideas on how to deal with my own kids. It also pushed me to reflect on my management style and gave me a moment of pause to think about how I might handle a similar situation.
Focusing on others leads to a positive feedback loop
When I feel down, talking to other people about their lives not only distracts me from my own negative emotions, but it makes them feel like they are important to me.
My cousin sent me a letter last year thanking me for being such a great friend to her. Receiving this kind of positive feedback about our friendship feels good, which makes my overall situation feel better. Extending kindness through good listening is like the opposite of a vicious cycle by creating a positive feedback loop. Perhaps we should call it a virtuous cycle?
Being Kind to Others Should Be a Priority
Extending kindness to others includes strangers we come across in our daily lives. Dale Carnegie was right about encouraging us to smile and use a person’s name in a conversation.
I used to be one of those people who instantly forgot a person’s name when they introduced themselves. I’m certainly not perfect at it now, but I started playing memory games with myself to help my recall. Sometimes I picture other people I know with the same name. In my mind, I picture them shaking hands. Other times I might associate names with an object, even picturing them holding it, like picturing a person named Melody holding a music sheet.
These tricks work. I still forget names, but now I seem to be remembering them more than forgetting them. And of course, I found that it is true that knowing a person’s name helps to establish an instant connection with others. Connecting with others and sharing a smile can be a moment of reprieve when dealing with tough circumstances.
Let’s face it, we all have rough patches from time to time. It is priceless to have friends to talk to about struggles when you really need it. But even better than having great friends, is being one. Putting others before ourselves and extending kindness can be a source of joy, perhaps much needed joy, during tough times.