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In a world where distance has little meaning now, and virtual connections are ubiquitous, it is ironic how humans seem to be drifting apart as far as emotional connections are concerned. With a constant flow of information and stimuli and hundreds of ‘friends’ online, it is indeed sad that millennials today feel more lonely and depressed versus previous generations. The world is fast-paced, and we are all running, not pausing to let our hearts and brains catch their breath.

But what is it really that we are running after? What is it that we aim to achieve? Is it money, success, fame, or the need for fulfillment? Or is it merely happiness that we seek?

One of the world’s longest studies of adult life, the ongoing Harvard study reveals what the real secret to happiness is. Almost 80 years old, the study had scientists track the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 during the Great Depression in hopes of achieving clues for a happy and healthy life. The results were astounding.

The secret ingredient to a happy life, according to the study, was deep and meaningful relationships with loved ones. Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, stated

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

The study found that people who were the most satisfied at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And so developing healthy relationships proved to be a better indicator of success and health versus other factors such as money, fame, IQ, genes and even cholesterol levels.

Now that we have established why healthy relationships are so critical throughout our lives let us look at how we can foster stronger and healthier relationships with our loved ones.

  1. Practice the three C’s:

Communication

Communication forms the basis to develop healthy relationships. The world we live in now is one where people rely heavily on social media for communication. Instagram or Facebook are the platforms that people use to tell someone how much they love using a perfect picture with an even better caption.

Instead, we need to learn how to be more expressive and vocal with our loved ones in real life. Make sure they feel appreciated, heard, and simply loved. Moreover, non-verbal communication, such as your actions and your expressions, can also contribute significantly towards your relationships. Talking to them, hugging them, making small gestures such as giving gifts (not necessarily expensive ones), and listening will go a long way in making them feel loved and important.

Compromise

This word may be unsettling for people who think they are expected to give up on their desires and wishes to keep others happy. However, compromise means working together as a team. It means finding common grounds and ensuring that each person feels heard and understood without giving up on things that bring them joy.

Compromise is a part of every relationship and is a very mature and sensible way of managing a situation. It definitely does not mean that only one person keeps making the compromise; rather, it is about finding the right balance and understanding which battles to fight for and which ones we can let go.

Commitment

To Develop healthy relationships can be challenging.  And if they are not taken care of, it can have an adverse impact on mental, emotional, and physical health, mood, or even focus at work. However, being committed to the relationship means working through the challenges together and not letting the other person bear any weight alone.

Commitment also requires a whole lot of confidence and believing in not just the other person, but also trusting yourself enough not to give up when the road gets rocky.

  1. Understand the love languages

Understanding the love language is a vital step to develop healthy relationships. In his globally acclaimed best-seller, ‘The 5 Love Languages’ Gary Chapman explains how each of us, intrinsically, has a separate love language, which is how we communicate our love to the others (verbally and non-verbally). These languages broadly fall under the 5 categories mentioned below.  Knowing what our love language is, and what the other person is, can significantly help resolve conflicts and understand each other better.

These work for all relationships, not just romantic ones, and it really helps bring clarity to the bonds that we share. If you would like to know about your love language, you can take this quiz to find out.

Words of affirmation

For those who identify with this long language, effective communication works like a charm. They like being complimented and appreciated verbally. This doesn’t mean that you have to shower them with long speeches, but a simple thank you for carrying out a mundane task also goes a long way.

Gifts
A form of non-verbal communication is also paying attention to what your loved one like. Even a gesture as small as getting them their favorite chocolate, flowers, or movie tickets can make them feel loved. Try and understand if your partner prefers this style of expression versus a more verbal form of expressing love. Whatever the method is, developing a habit of giving gifts to others is a guaranteed way to develop healthy relationships.

Acts of service

None of us like to do the dishes or fold the laundry. Yet performing these tasks once in a while can make your mother/wife/sister very happy and might even give your family a good chance to laugh over the one time you forgot to turn the washer off. Individuals who identify with this language would often quietly do small things for you, which is their way of saying ‘thank you’ or ‘I love you.’

Quality time

While we all may live in the same house, we rarely spend time with each other. Our laptops and phones keep us so occupied that we live in very different headspaces while being under the same roof.

Now and then, try to put your electronic devices away and simply enjoy a home-cooked meal together or go out for grocery shopping. Those who appreciate quality time would want their partner/loved one to be in close proximity with them, even when doing a mundane task. That is how they show the other person is essential to them.

Physical touch

It is reported that hugging our loved ones for 20 seconds or more releases oxytocin, which is called “the bonding hormone.”  The hugging and oxytocin release that comes with it spreads throughout the body, which leads to a slew of benefits. That includes but not limited to, drop in the stress hormone, a decrease in heart rate, and lower levels of cortisol and norepinephrine.

Furthermore, there is also evidence of the bonding hormone leading to stronger immune function and pain tolerance. Thus, when you are physically close to your beloved ones, you not only develop healthy relationships but also strengthen your own body, making it a win-win situation for all!

Understand if your partner appreciates a quick hug or a peck on the cheek before rushing off to work and giving them that can brighten up the day ahead of them.

  1. Accept and celebrate the differences

Whether it is with your siblings, spouse, friend, or colleague, understand that each individual is different and unique, and that is what makes the relationships fascinating. Even expecting our own children to be like us is unfair and can take a significant toll, mentally and emotionally, on both individuals.

Though it may be challenging, we need to accept the other person for who they are and find common ground for the relationship to thrive on. Disagreeing and scuffling on minor things will not only cause irreparable damage to the relationship but may also lead to various health complications.

So, accept and celebrate the differences!

  1. Learn to give and take feedback

Now, this may not just be for a working setup, although it is ideal for that scenario, honest and open feedback is essential if you want to develop a healthy relationship. The intent behind the input, though, needs to be a positive one. We should strive to help the other person become better. Similarly, we should be open enough to understand that no one is perfect, and welcome constructive feedback from others to develop ourselves personally and professionally.

  1. Develop trust and empathy

Individuals who do not trust others always seem cynical and seem to exude negative vibes around them. These individuals generally have more foes than friends.

That is because people love to be around those who seem positive and trust others. Learn to see the good in people and develop a positive outlook. Moreover, develop a sense of empathy and understanding. Others will also believe and value you more when they see you relating to their feelings and situation, and it will help deepen the connection.

  1. Invest time in the relationship

This is perhaps the most important step to develop a healthy relationship and critical point for this tech-savvy generation, where we are used to multitasking and working on more than one screen at a time. Slowing down in life, taking a break from technology, and just being ‘present’ at the moment are absolutely essential to develop stronger bonds between individuals.

Ask yourself – When was the last time you didn’t get annoyed at your child’s never-ending story because it stopped you from sending a quick text to someone? When did you really put your phone down and listen to your spouse telling you how the day was? When was the last time we got coffee with a colleague or friend and discussed something other than work?

Relationships thrive when we put time, patience, and effort into them. They are like tiny blossom which are delicate and require constant attention.

  1. Inspire and be Inspired

Be someone who motivates other people and strives them to do more and be better. Make them believe in themselves and be the rock for all their actions and decisions. Consequently, take inspiration from your loved ones, pick up good habits, share common hobbies, and strive to be the best version of yourself. The best relationships are those where both parties are continually evolving and learning.

  1. Know your self-worth

While we have mentioned the importance of compromise and dedicating yourself to a relationship, it by no means signifies that you should give up on yourself as an individual. In fact, the more you learn to love and appreciate yourself, the more value you will be adding to your bond with others.

Whether you are a stay-at-home-mom, who feels she has ‘lost’ herself in the labyrinth of motherhood, or a retired middle-aged man who suddenly feels lonely and useless, understand that you are important. Find your purpose in life, understand what makes you happy, and learned to love yourself. It is only when we are content and happy within ourselves that we can contribute towards stronger and healthy relationships with others.

In essence, to nurture healthy and sustainable relationships, one needs to be true to oneself and others. Everyone seems to be in a quest for how to develop a healthy relationship.

Honesty and communication lay the foundation for healthy relationships, along with the ability to understand the other person’s perspective and being there for them in times of need. Technology, in itself, is a very positive thing, but like everything else in life, it needs to be used with balance and moderation. We need to engage with each other on a human, more profound level, for the human mind and heart are naturally wired to form close associations and develop connections. The human race survives and thrives as a community, and for that, we need to go back to the fundamentals of what kept us together in the first place – love, kindness, and empathy.

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