Five Strategies to Build Meaningful Relationships

how to build meaningful relationshipsPhoto by Priscilla Du Preez on Unsplash

There’s a lot of evidence that positive relationships are the most important factor in our happiness and well-being. And I want to suggest that building meaningful relationships requires intentionality on our part. They don’t happen by magic. Nor do they happen by waiting for others to take the initiative. Happy people take responsibility for their relationships. So, in this post I want to talk about five strategies for building meaningful relationships with friends and family.


Research teaches us that friendship is at least as important to your health as exercise and diet. Friends bring companionship and sense of importance and belonging. They help boost our confidence and self-worth. In addition, they help us deal with traumas and the rough patches of life and so make a difference to our sense of well-being and happiness.

Of course, how many friends we need depends on our personality. Some people are more extraverted and like connecting with as many people as possible. Introverts also need human connections, just not as many. Overall, quality matters more than quantity.

So here are my five strategies for building more meaningful relationships with your friends and family.

Give what you want to receive.

The universe operates reciprocally. What you put out is what comes back. If you put out goodwill, goodwill comes back. If you put out friendship, friendship comes back. On the other hand, if you put out meanness that is what comes back. Put out love, and love comes back.  So here is a great little secret. Giving what you want is what you will receive. In fact, the more you give the more you’ll receive. If you want joy and happiness then give joy and happiness to others and it will come back to you.

So, one practice I encourage is to give something to everyone with whom you come into contact. It may be material but most of the time it will not. In fact, the most powerful forms of giving are non-material, such as your attention and full presence, affection, appreciation, kindness, or love. These gifts don’t cost you anything. And yet they are incredibly valuable.

How do you do this? Sometimes you do it through kind words or a compliment. More often, you do it by being consciously aware of what you want another to feel in your presence. You focus on them, see them, look into their eyes. And then you form an intention that communicates to them what you want them to feel or receive. This usually means that you offer a silent wish as you first greet them, such as “I wish you joy.”  “I wish you prosperity.” Or “I wish you happiness and peace.”

Even though you don’t say the words aloud, this person will feel your intent and goodwill. Of course, you have to be conscious of doing this. You have to practice it daily. I was conscious of doing this with my wife as I was creating my course on happiness and positive psychology.  Each morning, I mentally put out a ton of goodwill and warmth as she talked to me. And I could tell throughout the rest of the day that she felt it because of the interest and warmth that came back from her. As you do what I’m talking about you’ll notice that you’re not only building meaningful relationships with others but feeling more goodwill and happiness in your own life.

Act in a friendly way

One way to act in a friendly way is to greet others enthusiastically. “Hi,” “Good morning,” or “It is really good to see you.” This could be with your family members first thing in the morning or when you first see friends or co-workers. I think of how easy it is to do this with young children. It is so natural to greet them warmly. “Good morning. How are you? It is so good to see you this morning?” followed by a big hug.

Enthusiasm is warm and friendly. It lets people know you like them. And, it is also contagious. We know from neuroscience that we have mirror neurons in our brains which cause us to mimic the behavior of others, especially those who are important to us. A bad mood is contagious. So are love and goodwill and so why not put out love and friendliness?

Being friendly includes smiling and looking people in the eye as well as calling them by name. It is about being fully present with them, without distractions as you speak. Have you ever been talking to someone who seemed to be scanning the room, more interested in what was going on around them than being present with you? Contrast that with someone who gave you their full attention. What a difference. And so we want to do the latter—be fully present, mentally as well as physically, with the person in front of us in this moment.

Learn empathy

Empathy is your ability to see someone’s perspective and recognize and care about their emotions and life situation. You show empathy as you are curious and ask someone questions to help them open up, if they so desire. For example, “Doing anything special this weekend?” “How are you feeling about such and such?” Or, “How did such and such go last night?”

Then draw them out by being a good listener. It’s so easy to slip out of empathy by talking about yourself, relating your own thoughts and experiences. This isn’t all bad. It can keep a conversation going. But what if you took time to remain empathetic for a little longer, instead? You do this by making acknowledging comments, “Wow.” “Okay.” “Uh, huh.” Or sharing an empathic response. “That must have been so much fun.” Or, “What a hard experience.” Keep the focus on them for a while rather than turning it back to yourself.

Sometimes, after listening, it can be helpful to ask how you can support someone: “How can I support you?” or, “What do you need from me?” Asking how you can support them is far better than guessing or trying to tell someone what they need to do or how to solve their problems. Just being there and listening in a nonjudgmental way is a core part of empathy.

But so is learning to be a cheerleader for family and friends. You show empathy as you affirm people and stand up for them, celebrating their triumphs as well as listening when they’re down or defeated.

Open up and disclose your own thoughts, feelings, and experiences

Another way to build meaningful relationships is to make yourself vulnerable. Being vulnerable is being willing to be seen as imperfect rather than always putting on pretenses. Back when we lived in Colorado, I skied with a bunch of guys that were experts, more experienced and better than me. I recall seeing a friend doing a video of me as I skied down some difficult terrain. As I got closer, I skied around some trees and came out just below him. “I was recording you. Why did you ski out of the camera?”

I was honest. “I didn’t want to embarrass myself.”

“But people want to see that you’re (we’re) not perfect. They’d like you more if you were real with them and let them see your vulnerability.”

Wow. How true. Not only would they like me more. I’d like me more.

Honest disclosure, vulnerability, and being real about what’s going on in your life, your deeper feelings or experiences when you’re not at your best, do will do more to build meaningful relationships than pretending to have it together. Although you don’t share this way with anyone and everyone, nothing deepens a relationship like sharing something more personal. Frankly, this is often easier for women than men. In fact, men often bond over hobbies and recreation and may not be as personally disclosing. But over time, talking about deeper topics builds meaningful relationships.

Develop shared rituals

People who care about each other spend time together—whether we’re talking about family members or friends. Spending time together is finding shared interests and then getting together around those interests. Eventually, these interests become rituals that become meaningful and keep us connected on a regular basis. It might be a parent putting a child to bed at night. It might be friends getting together for lunch, car-pooling to an event, or going on a Saturday morning run.

Rituals become something we know we can count on and solidify our relationship. So, whether in your family or with friends, think about your shared rituals and the part these play in maintaining or strengthening your relationship. Consider opportunities to create more shared rituals that could make your relationships even more meaningful.

In conclusion

If you practice these five strategies, you’ll be building more meaningful relationships. Furthermore, they put the responsibility on you to build meaningful relationships. They also make you a “giver” rather than “taker” in your personal/social relationships. They start a positive, expansive cycle in which others enjoy being with you and naturally want to give to you in positive ways.

Please, leave a comment. Share your thoughts.



  1. Aubrey Tennant

    More than ever the world needs these principles taught at home and in school as part of developing a meaningful & healthy lifespan. Great stuff!

    • Roger Allen

      Thank you, Aubrey. I certainly agree.

  2. Tiffiney Christiansen


    Roger, I’ve always known, deep inside, these are the type of actions that will strengthen my relationships. But I struggle to get there!

    This article is so well written and helps me see examples of how to improve. It’s almost like you’ve handed me the secret to success and happiness.

    I’m sharing this with my kids.

    Thank you!


    • Roger Allen

      Thanks for your comment, Tiffiney. Our relationships matter and I’m pleased that you found the article and examples helpful. My best to you.


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