Lesson 31: Would you rather be right, or happy?

How many times has someone, usually your parents or a boss, told you to “think before you speak,” or, “if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything.”  I lost count of how many times I have heard either of those phrases but they hold true.  They are timeless.  It is advice that can really take you places in life.  This also serves as a continuation of lesson 30: You are not as smart as you think you are.

Debates can be healthy.  It forces you to defend your position while also trying to understand the opposing position.  You will either dig in deeper to your position, or you will consider the alternative and possibly discover a better way.  Arguments, however, can be dangerous and unhealthy.  They are unproductive and almost always end up with a winner and a loser.  Essentially, even the winner of the argument is a loser because all that is gained is a new adversary.

It is important to stick up for yourself and stand your ground on the things you believe in, but that does not give you the right to attack people over what they believe in.  Hollywood may be able to turn bullying into comedic entertainment, but there is nothing that is truly funny about being a jack-ass.  You may prove your point to someone and enter the land of I am right and you are wrong, but you also most likely succeeded in turning that person against you.  Congrats on your momentary victory.  Hope it was worth losing a friend or loved one over.

This can also be tied into Lesson 17: Know when and how to properly walk away from a fight or argument.  When things get heated, it is easy to lose focus on what really matters and get tunnel vision.  All you can see, all you care about, is making your point and proving that you are right.  It is easy to overlook how the other person is going to react to having their personal opinion or belief attacked.  You may end up being right, but by the time you realize you just made an enemy or broke someone’s heart, it is too late.  The damage is done.  It isn’t worth it.  Either listen with an open mind and discuss the matter calmly or walk away and cool off.


Lesson 30: You are not as smart as you think you are

Don’t you hate it when someone talks to you in a way, about anything, and it is clear that they are not as knowledgeable about the subject as they seem to think they are?  You are not the only one.  I would be willing to bet that this is something you are probably guilty of as well.  It is ok to admit it.  I know I am.  Guess what!  No matter how smart you think you are, there is always room to learn more.  Just because you think you are the smartest person in the room, doesn’t make it the truth.  

I thought I knew everything I needed to know, and then some.  I was fueled with confidence and was convinced that I had everything in life figured out.  I considered all of my life experiences, time spent with my nose in books, how many years I spent with my butt planted in classrooms listening to professors, and I would think about how no one could possibly know all the things that I know.  I was right, but that didn’t make me smart.  It most certainly didn’t make me the smartest person in the room.

In fact, when you think you are smart enough to the point where you have nothing left to learn from anyone, you just proved that you are as stupid as can be.  Everyone, no matter what position they occupy, has something they could teach us.  I don’t care if you are a triple Ph.D. recipient or an elementary school dropout.  There are always lessons to be learned.  A closed mind is a dumb mind.  There is always room for improvement.

In relationships, confidence is attractive.  Any relationship.  Friends like to have confident people around them and so do significant others.  Overconfidence, on the other hand, not so much.  It is ok to not have all the answers.  It is the biggest part of the adventure that is life.  The journey to discovery.  I have yet to meet someone that was pleased to be by a know-it-all.  The vulnerability that accompanies not having all the answers lets people know that you are human.  The ability to admit you don’t know makes you more trustworthy.  Open your mind.


Lesson 29: The small things matter

This sounds familiar, doesn’t it?  It should.  I have said it before.  I will say it again because this deserves a section in itself.  Pay attention.  Learn to listen.  Big things have a big impact, but so can the little things if you ignore them enough.  Remembering a birthday, anniversary, special event, etc. are easy, and even if you don’t think so, you can mark it on a calendar without it seeming bad.  The small things are another matter entirely. 

While writing these things down can demonstrate to the other person that you care, they can also show that these details are “not important enough” for you to put the effort into remembering.  Is that the case?  Maybe it is, hopefully not.  Either way, these are the things that can really show someone how much you truly care for them and how important they are to you.  These can be as simple as responding to a text message.  Giving a hug and kiss goodnight before going to sleep.  Taking out the trash without them having to ask.  The list goes on.

The problem with the small things is that they are small.  Anything that is small is easy to miss and is also easy to ignore.  The thing is small and therefore has minimal impact if any.  What is it they say about assumptions?  A drop of water in a tall glass seems like nothing, but a lot of drops into that same glass and it starts to fill up.  If you let that go on for too long without taking any action, what happens?  It starts to overflow and results in a mess.

But Matt, it’s just water.  Easy to clean.  You would think so right?  But what happens when that mess goes unnoticed?  Someone could slip and fall.  Someone can get hurt.  It is seemingly innocent until it isn’t.  The small things can build up and lead to one big problem.  The small things in a relationship all have one major thing in common.  The relationship.  They all add up to you not paying enough attention to the relationship, which will eventually cause unnecessary struggle and hardship.  Pay attention to everything, big and small.  It all matters in the long run.


Lesson 28: Keep your promises

Your word is the strongest currency you possess.  It can not be emphasized strongly enough.  Your word is your bond and your ability to keep your promises, no matter who they are to, is make or break on every single occasion.  This is where trust is either built or destroyed.  It is a constant battle and is never truly over.  In some cases, it can take years to build a strong foundation.  Unfortunately, no matter how strong the foundation, it can be destroyed in a single moment.

It is the polite and respectful thing to do.  Honor matters.  You can see it and feel it when you are near someone that has it.  Those are the type of people you want to be around.  Those are the types of people that they want around them.  Words are more powerful than people tend to give them credit for.  At the end of the day, your word is the only currency you have that is based solely on your actions.  You have complete power and control over them.

Never make a promise you can’t keep.  I understand, as well as most reasonable people, emergencies come up.  Life is full of the unexpected.  The only constant thing in life is change.  This is where the strength of that foundation is put to the test.  In a relationship where there is a strong foundation of trust and kept promises, it takes more than an emergency to demolish the value of your word.  Unexpected things happen, accidents occur, emergencies take precedent, whatever the case may be.

Having built enough trust, and demonstrating to people that you are a person of character and that your word is absolute, it is understandable that had that emergency or unforeseen circumstance not occurred, you would have followed through without question.  It is important to constantly strengthen the currency that is your word by always following through, no matter the discomfort or inconvenience.  The stronger the value of your word, the more understanding you receive when unexpected things happen.


Lesson 27: Look for the signs, good and bad

Things in life aren’t always clear.  You need to pay attention.  You need to focus.  Listening and paying attention to everything, big and small, can make all the difference.  No matter what, there are always signs telling you how things are going.  Sometimes they are obvious.  Continuous smiling, affectionate acts, laughs, and constant excitement.  A lot of the time, the signs can sneak up on you, and if you aren’t paying close enough attention, you might miss them entirely.  

Don’t let them catch you off guard.  This is where happiness checks come in handy.  This is when you need to ask questions.  These can be the times that communication is the most critical.  If you don’t know, ask.  If you are not sure, ask.  If you think you know or believe you are sure, ASK ANYWAYS.  Let them know how important they are to you by keeping the communication active and frequent.  Knowing that you can ask is not an excuse to not pay attention.  It is a valuable tool to use in order to gain clarity about the situation.

If you start seeing signs that make you feel uneasy, trust your instincts.  Your instincts are a lot smarter than you are.  This is not a cause for arguments or accusations.  It just means that something is not being communicated properly or there is a serious problem with the relationship.  You need to address it.  You both need to address it.  Relationships are a team effort.

If you start seeing signs that make you feel like things are going well, capitalize on it.  Buy them flowers.  Cook them a nice surprise meal one day when they get home from work.  Do something exciting or relaxing together.  Most importantly, let them know that things are going very well and that you are very happy.  Guess what!  They are not likely a mind reader either.  Communication is a two-way street.  Verbal and nonverbal communication are essential to constantly work on and improve.


Lesson 26: Relationships are not a power struggle

Relationships should be healthy and fun.  They should be fantastic and exciting.  They are the goal of most people in life.  They can be in your control, their control, or at the mercy of fate and circumstance.  Most importantly, they are very delicate.  Even the strongest and most committed relationship can be undone by seemingly insignificant circumstances.  It is up to you and your partner to ensure that you work together to maintain the strength of your relationship.  

Like working out in the gym to strengthen your body, or reading a book to strengthen your mind, relationships are in constant need of maintenance and strengthening.  It is a team effort.  It is ok to take control from time to time but it is a power that needs to be treated with respect.  Having power doesn’t mean you can’t exercise a delicate nature from time to time.  It also doesn’t mean that power belongs to either one of you.  

Much like the three times in a relationship, this is one of those things that requires an equitable balance.  A relationship is a shared experience.  A shared experience calls for shared input and control.  Decisions should be unanimous.  Just because you are at the helm of the ship, doesn’t mean you should stop listening to the other person (people) that keep the ship afloat and functioning.  Otherwise, it isn’t much of a relationship.

It doesn’t matter if you are the breadwinner.  It doesn’t matter if you are the homemaker.  It is not about who does more chores or pays more bills.  It is about balance and consensus.  You are not a military unit storming a beach that is in need of a solid and unbreakable chain of command.  Relationships do not need a captain or CEO.  They need love and balance.  They thrive on equal input and love.  If you are looking to be the boss, perhaps you should start a company or work hard to get promoted within one.  Relationships are not the place for a dictatorship.


Lesson 25: Respect the 3 times in a relationship

Life is all about balance.  Balance in as many aspects of life as possible.  Work, school, dieting, exercise, relationships (platonic, business, romantic, etc.), and so much more.  Life isn’t fair.  It never has been and never will be.  Striving for balance is about as close as you will ever get to fairness.  Balancing out the three times in a relationship is so often the difference between happily ever after, and watching the love of your life pack their things and walk out the door without saying goodbye.  

What do I mean?  Three times?  It is simple enough to understand but can be more difficult to implement than you might think.  It is something that you need to communicate with others.  Expecting them to just know or understand is foolish.  There is your time, which is the time you spend doing things on your own.  There is their time, where they are doing the things they want to do on their own.  Finally, there is the time that you spend together.  Simple enough right?  Perhaps, but how often and how easy is it to overlook one every now and then because of some kind of special circumstance or emergency?  

Spending time together is fantastic.  It is nice to share the things you love with the ones you love.  This is where most of your time should reside if you are in a loving and meaningful relationship.  It is also important to understand that relationships, like work, can be very difficult, even stressful.  Much like work, it is important to take breaks that allow you time to rest, recoup, and gain some much needed and uninterrupted perspective.  That is what your time and their time is for.  It is time for you to do something that you enjoy but maybe they don’t.  Something that allows you to participate in an activity or pastime that will help you take your mind off things and do what I like to call, “reset.”  Like work, these two times allow you to come back together with a more fresh perspective on the relationship.

The time you spend away from each other is also a time where you are reminded about how important the other person is to you.  Just because it is your time doesn’t mean you can’t think about them or plan things to do with them.  It is meant to do the opposite.  It shows you how important that person is to your life.  When your and their time is taken care of, you come back together and it is easier to see how much that person means to you.  You gain a much clearer perspective and you start to appreciate what you have with each other.  Don’t ignore the 3 times.


Lesson 24: Don’t lose touch with quality friends

You and you alone are responsible for your mental state.  Life is difficult.  Bad things happen.  The good news is you don’t have to face these things alone.  Not if you don’t want to.  It is ok to ask for help.  Friendships, like relationships, require constant attention and fostering.  Relationships, romantic or otherwise, are like a plant.  Fail to take care of and maintain them, they wither away.  All it takes is a phone call here or a text message there to let them know that you care about the relationship and you value their involvement in your life.   

You need to always be your absolute best.  An easy way to do that is to maintain quality friendships in your life.  This doesn’t mean that they should be a higher priority than your romantic relationships.  It just means that you need help.  These are the people that, no matter what happens, are ready and willing to do whatever it takes to help you.  We always hope for the best, but bad days come.  Pain and heartache are inevitable.  Friends are there to help share the burden.  This not only makes the pain and heartache more bearable, but it also provides hope.  The belief that tomorrow will be better.  It will be better because you are not alone.

Friends are important.  The kinds of friends you have around you are a reflection of you.  They show others the type of people you like or prefer to associate with.  This doesn’t mean you have to be friends with everyone.  Pick and choose carefully.  Quality over quantity.  Time is irreplaceable so take great care in choosing who you spend your time with.  It also shows your significant other the kinds of things and people you value having in your life.  They are not the family you were given on the day you were born.  They are the family you choose.


Lesson 23: Happiness Checks

News flash!  You are not psychic.  Follow up!  Neither are they.  Communicate and keep the communication flowing.  Ask questions.  Listen to the answers.  It is OK to ask them if they are happy.  Communication is key.  If you don’t know or understand something, ask.  This isn’t just about them.  It is about you as well.  It takes both parties to make it work.  You are both responsible for the happiness levels of the relationship, but that doesn’t mean one of you can’t take charge and lead the way.  Just make sure whoever takes charge remembers that relationships are a team effort.

If only one of you is happy, something is wrong.  The relationship is not working.  That doesn’t mean it can’t work or is doomed to fail.  It just means that something is not right and needs to be fixed.  Something is either being miscommunicated, or not communicated at all.  Communication is key.  It can’t be stressed enough.  Most, if not all, of these guidelines tie into communication and whether or not you are both happy or something is wrong.  If something is wrong, you don’t want to be surprised by it or have to handle it on your own.  Work together.  Most things in life are easier when you have the help of something with common interests and goals.  

While asking the direct question can be the easiest route, you don’t have to constantly ask whether or not the other person is happy.  There are plenty of ways to do happiness checks that are more subtle and better suited to work out any problem if one exists.  It is not just about general happiness.  Think about specifics.  “How is work?  Are you enjoying what you do?  Do you get along well with your colleagues?”  Then listen to the answers.  Good or bad, sharing the events of the day are a great way to bond with each other and show that even though the day may not have gone as desired or expected, with you, they can be completely open and unafraid of judgment or criticism.   

I said leave work at work, but that doesn’t mean to never communicate about it.  It is easy to say, difficult to implement.  Unhappiness in the workplace is difficult to prevent from spilling over into home life.  Communication is key.  Let them speak and listen intently.  Respond appropriately.  If they had a bad day, this is your chance to be the hero of the day.  Get them something to eat or drink, have them relax on their favorite chair or couch, and take some time to let them decompress in an environment of comfort, love, and understanding.  Make sure you both understand that this conversation is meant to bring you closer together.


Lesson 22: Nice and loving gestures

I have yet to meet anyone in this world that did not appreciate a well thought out surprise that was meant for them.  It doesn’t even have to be well thought out.  Some flowers and chocolates on the way home can do the job equally as well.  Whether or not you like surprises or presents, it is always nice to know that someone was thinking about you and cared enough to take the time and go out of their way to do something nice for you.  

These can be simple things but this is where listening intently, paying attention, and remembering the things they like really come into play.  Nice and loving gestures are where you not only show them how much you love them and care about making them happy, it is an opportunity to show that you were listening to what they said and the things they care about are important to you.  It is a simple and easy way to demonstrate your commitment to what you both share.  It also feels really good to make the person you love feel special.  It is too easy to get so distracted that too much time passes between these gestures.  

It is not about buying the relationship and paying some kind of “love rent.”  There is no price tag, price expectation, or price limit.  If the other person can’t appreciate the gesture without some kind of financial attachment, you probably have bigger problems.  This is about reigniting that feeling you got when you were young when someone brought you a present.  The excitement and mystery felt great but the feeling of being special enough to someone that they would get you a present was indescribable.

There doesn’t even have to be money involved.  Go for a nice walk and pick out a nice flower.  If you see a colorful rock that you know they would like or find interesting, grab it, take it home, and put it in a box to wrap and present to them.  It isn’t about the gift itself, it is about the thought attached to it.  That mental connection.  Get to the door first so you can hold it open for them.  Wake up 20 minutes earlier than them and make them some breakfast in bed.  Have a nice big dinner ready for them when they get home from work.  Play a nice slow song in your home and pull them close for a dance.  Hug and kiss them as much as possible.