Be Friendly

Be Friendly

Friend or Foe?

The Practice:
Be friendly.

Why?

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.

How?

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.

Last and not least, there is friendliness toward animals (“great and small, seen and unseen, omitting none”) . . . plants . . . your body . . . and yourself. Even friendliness toward inanimate objects: greeting the door before you open it, the ground about to meet your feet; not slamming the drawer in, but instead wishing it well; welcoming the cup rising to your lips.

See what happens. Take in the rewards, like one small log after another, fueling that warm glowing fire on the hearth in your heart.



Dr. Ramani Durvasula is a licensed clinical psychologist, author, and expert on the impact of toxic narcissism. She is a Professor of Psychology at California State University, Los Angeles, and also a Visiting Professor at the University of Johannesburg.

The focus of Dr. Ramani’s clinical, academic, and consultative work is the etiology and impact of narcissism and high-conflict, entitled, antagonistic personality styles on human relationships, mental health, and societal expectations. She has spoken on these issues to clinicians, educators, and researchers around the world.

She is the author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship With a Narcissist, and Don't You Know Who I Am? How to Stay Sane in an Era of Narcissism, Entitlement, and Incivility. Her work has been featured at SxSW, TEDx, and on a wide range of media platforms including Red Table Talk, the Today Show, Oxygen, Investigation Discovery, and Bravo, and she is a featured expert on the digital media mental health platform MedCircle. Dr. Durvasula’s research on personality disorders has been funded by the National Institutes of Health and she is a Consulting Editor of the scientific journal Behavioral Medicine.

Dr. Stephen Porges is a Distinguished University Scientist at Indiana University, Professor of Psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, and Professor Emeritus at both the University of Illinois at Chicago and the University of Maryland. He is a former president of the Society for Psychophysiological Research and has been president of the Federation of Behavioral, Psychological, and Cognitive Sciences, which represents approximately twenty-thousand biobehavioral scientists. He’s led a number of other organizations and received a wide variety of professional awards.

In 1994 he proposed the Polyvagal Theory, a theory that links the evolution of the mammalian autonomic nervous system to social behavior and emphasizes the importance of physiological states in the expression of behavioral problems and psychiatric disorders. The theory is leading to innovative treatments based on insights into the mechanisms mediating symptoms observed in several behavioral, psychiatric, and physical disorders, and has had a major impact on the field of psychology.

Dr. Porges has published more than 300 peer-reviewed papers across a wide array of disciplines. He’s also the author of several books including The Polyvagal Theory: Neurophysiological foundations of Emotions, Attachment, Communication, and Self-regulation.

Dr. Bruce Perry is the Principal of the Neurosequential Network, Senior Fellow of The ChildTrauma Academy, and a Professor (Adjunct) in the Departments of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago and the School of Allied Health at La Trobe University in Melbourne, Australia. From 1993 to 2001 he was the Thomas S. Trammell Research Professor of Psychiatry at Baylor College of Medicine and chief of psychiatry at Texas Children's Hospital.

He’s one of the world’s leading experts on the impact of trauma in childhood, and his work on the impact of abuse, neglect, and trauma on the developing brain has impacted clinical practice, programs, and policy across the world. His work has been instrumental in describing how traumatic events in childhood change the biology of the brain.

Dr. Perry's most recent book, What Happened to You? Conversations on Trauma, Resilience, and Healing, co-authored with Oprah Winfrey, was released earlier this year. Dr. Perry is also the author, with Maia Szalavitz, of The Boy Who Was Raised As A Dog, a bestselling book based on his work with maltreated children, and Born For Love: Why Empathy is Essential and Endangered. Additionally, he’s authored more than 300 journal articles and book chapters and has been the recipient of a variety of professional awards.

Dr. Allison Briscoe-Smith is a child clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and issues of race. She earned her undergraduate degree from Harvard and then received her Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of California, Berkeley. She performed postdoctoral work at the University of California San Francisco/San Francisco General Hospital. She has combined her love of teaching and advocacy by serving as a professor and by directing mental health programs for children experiencing trauma, homelessness, or foster care.

Dr. Briscoe-Smith is also a senior fellow of Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center and is both a professor and the Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion at the Wright Institute. She provides consultation and training to nonprofits and schools on how to support trauma-informed practices and cultural accountability.

Sharon Salzberg is a world-renowned teacher and New York Times bestselling author. She is widely considered one of the most influential individuals in bringing mindfulness practices to the West, and co-founded the Insight Meditation Society in Barre, Massachusetts alongside Jack Kornfield and Joseph Goldstein. Sharon has been a student of Dipa Ma, Anagarika Munindra, and Sayadaw U Pandita alongside other masters.

Sharon has authored 10 books, and is the host of the fantastic Metta Hour podcast. She was a contributing editor of Oprah’s O Magazine, had her work featured in Time and on NPR, and contributed to panels alongside the Dalai Lama.

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