Our lives depend on our relationships. From the moment we’re born, we rely on others to help raise us, nurture us, care for us. No matter how independent or self-reliant we become, we will always accomplish more with the help of others.
But achievements are only the beginning.
Robert Waldinger is a psychiatrist and is currently directing the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive studies of emotional well-being in history. The study began in 1938 during the Great Depression, and counted President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as original subjects. (Only 19 of the original participants are still alive, all in their mid-90s.)
Scientists eventually expanded their research to include the children of the original participants, examining vast medical records, hundreds of in-person interviews and questionnaires, even brain scans. The result is an abundance of data on physical, mental, and emotional health.
So, what did Waldinger have to say when asked to present his conclusions on this unprecedented study?
He cited one message that came through loud and clear:
“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
“When we gathered together everything we knew about [these participants] at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” said Waldinger, in his now famous TED Talk entitled “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.”“It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
“Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains,” Waldinger continued.
So, how can you cultivate better relationships?
That’s one of the questions I explored in my new book, EQ Applied: The Real-World Guide to Emotional Intelligence. I pored over additional research from various neuroscientists, the Gallup organization, even Google.
What did I find?
Simply put, that great relationships are built on trust.
You might imagine each of your relationships as a bridge you build between yourself and another person. Any strong bridge must be built on a solid foundation–and for relationships, that foundation is trust. Without trust, there can be no love, no friendship, no lasting connection between people. But where there is trust, there is motivation to act. If you trust someone is looking after your best interests, you will do almost anything that person asks of you.
So in that vein, here are eight emotionally intelligent actions you can take that will help you cultivate stronger, deeper trust–leading to more meaningful relationships.
Building trust requires consistent communication, which allows you to stay in touch with another person’s reality. You become quickly aware of their highs and lows, and how they deal with them. Further, you send the message that what’s important to them is important to you.
Nowadays, you can achieve this type of communication through various means, including phone, electronic messaging/social media, and good old-fashioned face-to-face conversation. The key is to use them all–just not at the same time.
Authentic people share their true thoughts and feelings with others. They understand that they aren’t perfect, but they’re willing to show those imperfections because they know everyone else has them, too. By accepting others for who they are, authentic individuals prove relatable.
Authenticity doesn’t mean sharing everything about yourself, with everyone, all of the time. It does mean saying what you mean, meaning what you say, and sticking to your values and principles above all else.
Authentic persons know not everyone will appreciate them, and that’s OK. The ones who matter will.
One of the easiest ways to gain someone’s trust is to help them.
It’s often the small things that matter: an offer to make a cup of coffee or tea. Pitching in with the dishes or helping to carry in groceries. Offering a helping hand whenever possible.
Actions like these inspire trust.
Honest communication is more than saying what you sincerely believe; it means avoiding half-truths and trying your best to represent yourself in a way that’s clear and forthright.
Deceivers may achieve temporary success, but sooner or later the truth comes out. In contrast, those who are honest stick out as invaluable.
We live in an age of commitment-breaking. It’s common for people to back out of an agreement or plan whenever they feel like it. In contrast, those who focus on staying true to their word develop a reputation for reliability and trustworthiness.
In addition, building self-awareness and self-control can help you avoid making commitments to which you have no intention of sticking. For example, a positive and enthusiastic outlook may cause you to over-promise…but once reality catches up, you tend to under-deliver. Identifying this fact, and training yourself to pause and think twice before committing yourself, can help you better live up to your promises.
Everyone craves to be appreciated for what they do. Why not give it to them?
It’s not enough to feel appreciation for others, you have to show it–otherwise, they may not know.
When you tell others specifically what you value about them and why, you encourage them to continue doing the things that make them great. Maybe even more importantly, you foster positive feelings and draw closer to you–and encourage them to be appreciative, too.
Empathy has been described as the ability to feel another person’s pain in your heart. To display empathy, it’s not necessary to share the same experiences or circumstances as others. Rather, you must simply strive to understand the person by getting to know their perspective.
This is easier said than done. The key is not to judge or minimize the feelings of the other person. If they’re struggling with something that you feel is not a big deal, try to remember a time when you struggled, and what would help in that time of need.
If you can truly empathize with another person, they will feel understood–and will likely be moved to reciprocate the effort the next time you’re in need.
There will be times when you feel like there is anything in the world you’d rather do than say two little words: “I’m sorry.”
But those two words have the potential to change another person’s entire demeanor or mood, to heal hurt feelings, and to show that you truly value your relationship.
Every meaningful conversation you have, every authentic and helpful act, every honest word, every promise you keep, every word of sincere and specific appreciation, and every apology will contribute to building deep and trusting relationships–like the untold number of delicate brushstrokes that make up a beautiful painting.
And as the research proves, those relationships will keep you happier and healthier, period.
Enjoy this post? Check out my book, EQ Applied, which uses fascinating research and compelling stories to illustrate what emotional intelligence looks like in everyday life.
A version of this article originally appeared on Inc.com.