Two Keys to Happiness

Every time I hold the door open for someone or witness a person who doesn’t hold the door open for me or others, I think about doing a study on people’s sense of social responsibility. Why do some people stride quickly through the door at the QT and allow the glass door to slam into the person behind them, while others always look back, holding the door open, even if it is 3 am in Fayetteville, Georgia, where everyone goes to bed at 10 pm? Who returns the grocery carts to the rack? Who wipes down the fitness equipment for the next user? Who hangs the air hose for filling tires neatly back on the hooks? Who apologizes when they push past those seated at a concert? Who donates extra money to charity at the cash register? Who stops to let walkers pass in front of them while driving the car? Who says encouraging words to fellow joggers they don’t know? On the other hand, who pulls the car over into the fire lane and runs into the store while traffic backs up? Who cuts in line if they can get away with it? Who changes the channel on TV without asking if anyone is watching the program that’s on? Who plays their music so loud that everyone else has no choice but to listen? Who pursues their own interests no matter how many people get hurt? Who parks illegally in the handicapped spot?

I think about social responsibility, in part, because I’d like to develop a survey to try to understand what factors are correlated with people who typically think about what others want or need. How does thinking about other people’s needs develop, or conversely, how does individualistic, self-centered thinking arise?

One’s ability to think about others and care about satisfying their needs (or at least getting along with them), is a significant element of good interpersonal communication. Socially responsible people listen well, observe others closely, and share easily. They will, presumably, be more likely to help others and they try not to be a burden. Besides seeing themselves as members of a unified group, people with good interpersonal communications skills say the right things. They know how to say things that suit the situation and people involved.

I don’t know whether it is more difficult to learn to think about/care for others or to learn what is appropriate to say/do in various kinds of relationships. This way of dividing interpersonal skills into “caring” and “saying” generates four possible combinations. If you care about others, but don’t really know what to say, you may have a difficult time starting a relationship, but you may be successful once the relationship develops. If you don’t care about others, but know what to say in various situations, you may be good at starting relationships, but find it difficult to maintain them. If you don’t care about others and struggle to find appropriate things to say, work on it. How old are you, anyway? If you care about others and know what to say, you’ll have the best chance of being happy and having long-term, fulfilling relationships. Why? It’s simple in a way. You’ll be more likely to find others who care about you and know what they should say to you. I’m not suggesting that there is some kind of quid pro quo in deeply satisfying relationships. I am saying that when you have both qualities, the inequities will be recognized, but will have less affect the relationship. Two caring, skillful communicators will be able to talk effectively about the challenges they face and will seek outcomes that satisfy both parties. They will learn from their mistakes and be willing to forgive. They will encourage their partners and celebrate their accomplishments.

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