Friend or Foe?
Friendliness is a down-to-earth approach to others that is welcoming and positive.
Think about a time when someone was friendly to you – maybe drawing you into a gathering, saying hello on the sidewalk, or smiling from across the room. How did that make you feel? Probably more included, comfortable, and at ease; safer; more open and warm-hearted.
When you are friendly to others, you offer them these same benefits. Plus you get rewarded yourself. Being friendly feels confident and happy, with a positive take on other people, moving toward the world instead of backing away from it. And it encourages others to be less guarded or reactive with you, since you’re answering the ancient question from millions of years of evolution – friend or foe? – with an open hand and heart.
In its own quiet way, ordinary friendliness takes a stand that is almost subversive these days: that the world has many more opportunities than threats, that most people want the best for others, that simple informal human connections tie this battered old planet together much more than jumbo corporations or mass media flickering on the walls of our upholstered caves.
You can be friendly with intimates and strangers, co-workers and in-laws, babies and bosses – even those you know only in the abstract, like people on the other side of the world. Of course, it is not always appropriate to be friendly with someone, such as to an adversary, or to someone who would misunderstand you. But opportunities for greater friendliness are probably all around you this week.
To warm up your brain’s circuits of friendliness, you could try one or more of these:
· Recall being with someone who cares about you.
· Remember when someone was friendly to you.
· Bring to mind a time when you were friendly to someone.
· Get a sense of the posture, movements, gestures, and facial expressions of a person you know who is naturally friendly.
· Relax your body into a feeling of friendliness: leaning forward a little, rather than back; softening and opening your chest, face, and eyes; breathing goodwill in and out.
Then look for everyday opportunities to be friendly. Often you’ll just give a smile, handshake, or nod – and that’s plenty. Maybe it’s offering a few minutes to talk. Or a morning hug, or goodnight kiss. Or an extra touch of warmth in an email.
Stretch yourself, but stay within the range of whatever is authentic. Remember that friendliness is not agreement or approval; it does not mean you have given up on whatever your stances may be in the relationship. Friendliness does not equal friendship; in truth, most relationships are with friendly acquaintances.
Consider your family and friends. What about being more friendly with your lover or mate? Having worked with couples for many years, it’s painful to see how often basic friendliness is a casualty in a long-term relationship. Or being more friendly toward parents, siblings – or your own children? Again, it’s startling how easily friendliness can be crowded out of our most important relationships by busyness, little irritations and hurts, or weariness from working too hard. But bits of friendliness, sprinkled here and there, can be absolutely transformational in a relationship. Try it and see!
Also consider being friendlier toward people you might normally ignore or treat with distance, even coolness. Such as wait staff in restaurants, someone shuttling you to the airport, or – breaking the big taboo – strangers in an elevator.
See what happens. Take in the rewards, like one small log after another, fueling that warm glowing fire on the hearth in your heart.
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Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of the bestselling Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom (in 21 languages) – and Just One Thing: Developing a Buddha Brain One Simple Practice at a Time. Founder of the Wellspring Institute for Neuroscience and Contemplative Wisdom and Affiliate of the Greater Good Science Center at UC Berkeley, he’s taught at Oxford, Stanford, and Harvard, and in meditation centers worldwide. His work has been featured on the BBC, NPR, Consumer Reports Health, and U.S. News and World Report and he has several audio programs. His blog – Just One Thing – has nearly 30,000 subscribers and suggests a simple practice each week that will bring you more joy, more fulfilling relationships, and more peace of mind and heart. If you wish, you can subscribe to Just One Thing here.