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  1. Feeling connected to others in a world that is increasingly individualistic may seem a challenge, but there are simple exercises you can use to develop stronger bonds with others and to improve the quality of your relationships. There is little doubt that humans are social beings. Feeling close to others contributes to our overall feelings of happiness and fulfilment, and there are plenty of studies that confirm this from a scientific point of view. In fact, scientists believe our brains are hard-wired to be social and that our development as a species relied on our ability to maintain strong bonds. But although we live surrounded by people, it seems that loneliness and isolation are some of the biggest social challenges of the 21st century. Researchers have noted that one can have a wide social network and interact regularly with others and still feel lonely or disconnected, which suggests that intimacy is a key factor in the development of meaningful connections with others. In this post, we will show you five easy exercises that can help deepen connection you have with others. Meditation Meditation is a fabulous tool that can help you achieve greater awareness and connection with the world that surrounds us. Several studies have found that meditation practice has a positive effect on close relationships and helps develop a stronger sense of intimacy. According to these studies, there are several reasons why meditation works: first of all, meditation makes us more accepting of our own flaws, so we can easily become more forgiving of others. Secondly, meditation improves our ability to separate thoughts from emotions and makes us less “reactive”, so we can continue working on developing closeness despite ups and downs in our relationships. Shou-yi is a lesser-known form of meditation that comes from the Taoist tradition. The name itself means “to embrace the one”, so it is easy to see why this technique can help deepen a connection with others. Shou-yi brings to the forefront of your mind the fact that in one way or another, we are all interconnected and interdependent. This technique is also known as “quiet sitting” and involves contemplative meditation based on Taoist philosophy. Sit down with your back straight Visualise the five “yin organs” or bodily parts where energy resides, which are the liver, heart, spleen, lungs, and kidneys. This could be compared to a body scan, where you focus on one body part at the time Each yin organ has a colour associated to it. Liver is azure, the heart is a vivid red, the spleen is yellow, lungs are white, and kidneys are dark blue. Focus on the relevant colour as you move through each body part According to Taoist scriptures, these colours also correspond to the five elements: wood (azure), fire (red), earth (yellow), metal (white), and water(dark blue) Visualise the flow between body parts, colours, and elements The goal of this technique is to achieve a deep insight into oneness and bring a deep sense of harmony between humans, the earth, and the cosmos. Once you are in the “oneness mindset”, it becomes easier to look at the forest instead of getting distracted by the trees (other people’s habits and traits that bother us). After all, there is a reason why Taoist philosophy has been used for peacebuilding and conflict management purposes. Loving-Kindness Meditation A second exercise is loving-kindness meditation (LKM). The ultimate goal of LKM is to strengthen compassion, love, and appreciation for other beings, so it is the ideal technique to improve intimacy. A study of people who practised loving-kindness meditation for 6 weeks showed a reduction in the negativity levels of their relationships, and participants reported having a stronger support network and increased happiness. The technique is also simple: Find a quiet space and choose a comfortable position Create a mantra, which should include good wishes towards others ( for example: "May I be happy, healthy and free from harm. May you be happy, healthy and free from harm") Repeat the mantra in 6 stages: first direct it towards yourself, next towards someone who has had a positive effect in your life, then towards a relative or friend, next towards someone you feel neutral or have an occasional conflict with, then towards someone you dislike, and last towards all beings While you repeat the mantra, picture those good wishes physically going from you to other people Here's an example of a loving kindness meditation by Jack Kornfield Gratitude The third exercise is writing gratitude letters. Letting other people know we value them and care for them can improve our relationship with others, since we become more likely to overlook people’s flaws, lessening any chance of conflict and helping us achieve a better appreciation of other people’s value. Gratitude letters can deepen connection because our feelings of gratitude are directly shown to the other person. This has a strong impact on the quality of the relationship, as well as a lasting effect that can span several weeks, as shown by studies at the University of Pennsylvania. Even if you don't send the letter, putting your gratitude in writing makes you more aware of your positive emotions and is bound to make you feel closer to others. Gratitude letters work because when we direct our attention to gratefulness, we automatically divert it from toxic or negative emotions. And as some researchers have found, the benefits multiply over time, since cultivating an ongoing gratitude practice causes changes in brain activity in areas related to decision-making, meaning that there is a link between gratitude feelings and how we act towards others. Getting To Know Your Exercise The fourth method is a 36-question exercise that you can use to understand others better and get a better picture of who they are. For this exercise, you will need to set 45 minutes aside and take turns asking the questions that you can find here. Research at US universities has shown that this exercise is effective in helping deepen connection and closeness between people. This is so because the exercise relies on mutual self-disclosure as opposed to small talk, and because it requires both sides to open up, providing a safe environment where there is no fear of feeling vulnerable or one-sided. Deep Listening Devoting time to actually listen to others (instead of simply exchanging views or acknowledging information) is one of the best ways of showing we care for them. Deep listening can also help increase empathy, because in doing so we get to understand better other people’s motives, needs, and fears, gaining a more accurate picture of who they are as human beings. Next time you have a conversation with someone, focus on what they are saying without judging or interrupting, and do your best to be present in the moment, being supportive and receptive. It is also useful to have some guidelines in mind: Suspend assumptions Suspend judgement Suspend status (communicate on an equal-to-equal basis) Honour confidentiality Honour silence Deep listening works because by not being judgmental and overlooking differences in opinion, others feel more inclined to trust us. Overall, deep listening improves the quality of our relationships and sets a solid foundation for authentic interpersonal encounters. Benefits of Deeper Intimacy We live in a society that is increasingly individualistic, so it is always good to remember the benefits of crafting a deeper connection with others and of cultivating intimacy in relationships. The benefits are both physical and emotional: being able to connect with others at a deeper level generates empathy, which has been proven to give a sense of purpose and to strengthen the immune system. Other studies show that stronger connectedness with others is a key component of our support system, can lower stress and anxiety levels, and has been linked to lower heart disease rates. Of course, lasting closeness, intimacy, and loyalty will not come automatically. There is no magic pill when it comes to deepening your connection with others, but the exercises we have discussed here are a good starting point that can help your enjoy richer and more meaningful relationships. Written by Dee Marques A social sciences graduate with a keen interest in languages, communication, and personal development strategies. Dee loves exercising, being out in Nature, and discovering warm and sunny places where she can escape the winter.
  2. What makes a happy life? According to the famed Harvard study on happiness, the answer is relationships and love. But what happens when we, or our partners, seem to express our love in different ways, with sadness or conflict as a consequence? Author Gary Chapman wrote about this matter and presented the Five Love Languages.  What are the five love languages? The premise behind the Love Languages is that people express love, and feel loved, in different ways. Most people have one clear primary and one clear secondary love language. Chapman argues that people feel loved when their partner express love in the language that is natural to the recipient. One could argue that their partner’s love language doesn’t come naturally to them, so they are unable to give their partner what they need. Chapman’s view is clear: find a way. If you don't speak your partner's language, your message of love will not be heard.  The five love languages Words of Affirmation Quality Time Receiving Gifts Acts of Service Physical Touch How do we apply them in our relationships? Words of affirmation are:  Verbal compliments and appreciation. Words of comfort and encouragement. And words that inspire kindness, humility, and generosity. Quality time is a time that consists of:  Focused attention. Quality conversation. And Quality Activities. Receiving/ giving gifts implies that the gifts are:  meaningful useful relevant and appropriate for different occasions. An act of Service deals with:  the smaller and bigger chores that we can do to make our partner’s lives easier or more comfortable. Physical touch deals with a physical intimacy that isn’t sexual:  embrace hugs and kisses. How to identify the love languages? Chapman proposes that we can identify our partner’s love language, and also our own, by:  Looking at how your partner most often expresses love to you and others. Being mindful of what your partner complains about most often; what do they lack in your relationship? Being attentive to what your partner asks for most often. We can transform our relationships by being aware of our partner’s, and our love language. Instead of losing acts and words of love in translation between different languages, we can express our love in a mutually satisfactory way. And that, as the Harvard study shows, makes us happy.    Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  3. Can Spicing Up Your Sex Life Promote Intimacy Between You & Your Partner? “Kink” and “BDSM” can seem like intimidating terms for people who have never been involved in the community. The unknown is always a little scary, after all, and popular media promotes the idea that these lifestyles are strange, mysterious things that go on in grim dungeons between people dressed in dehumanising latex suits and intimidating leather outfits. Behind all that, though, lies a truth you might be surprised to learn:  The true core of BDSM is trust, and trust - as we all know - breeds intimacy between partners, and is essential to the workings of a healthy and happy relationship. So what can the rest of us learn from the BDSM community about how this works?  Why Trust Is The Core Of All Good BDSM For people in ongoing kinky relationships, the bond between a dominant partner and their submissive can be one of the strongest and most reliable either of them will ever experience. BDSM takes its practitioners to deep psychological spaces together, and sharing those experiences promotes bonding.  It’s also true that you cannot practice safe BDSM with someone you cannot trust - and that every time you give some of your power over to someone and they handle it carefully, they’re proving to you that you can trust them implicitly. When someone is tied up, they’re relying on their partner to set them free again; when someone is being spanked or beaten, they’re counting on their partner to respect their limits and their pain threshold and not to mess it up.  These practices work like trust exercises; they’re the sexual equivalent of falling backwards into thin air and knowing that your partner will catch you before you hit the ground. Over time, people who engage in these activities together frequently will develop a profound mutual trust that it can be harder to come by in “vanilla” relationships.  5 Things You Can Try Out To Promote Intimacy and Trust If all that sounds good to you, don’t worry - nobody is suggesting that you go out and buy yourself a PVC catsuit unless you think you might enjoy the experience! There’s more than one way to make use of this knowledge. You don’t have to be interested in BDSM to be interested in some of the benefits it can bring. If you’d like to harness the ability of kink to promote intimacy between you and your partner, why not try out a few of these simple ideas together? You never know - you might discover a whole new world of things that get you both going.  Introduce a blindfold to the bedroom. Imagine for a moment that you’re experiencing some of the most intense sexual pleasure of your life - and you’re blindfolded. You don’t know exactly what your partner is going to do next, and you’re finding that the physical sensations are heightened by the loss of sight. This is a hugely intense experience for many people, and could completely change the way you feel what’s going on! Almost everyone can enjoy a bit of blindfolded sex: it’s a great way to deepen the sensation of trust between you and your partner. Discover the endorphin rush of a light spanking. Being spanked causes your brain to produce endorphins, meaning that you can get the same kind of euphoric high from a good spanking as you can from a good workout session. Don’t worry about your pain threshold: ask your partner to start light, and never feel pressured to take anything you’re not comfortable with. In addition to the natural hormonal rush, many people find that spanking is a profoundly intimate activity for both partners and one that can make you feel closer together when you’re done. Embrace the power of symbols to bring you together. We all know what wedding and engagement rings symbolise, but did you know that many people in BDSM relationships have a whole extra symbol that can be equally meaningful to them? Submissive partners will often wear a collar - sometimes a discrete or symbolic one that can be worn all the time - as a reminder of the nature of their relationship. There’s no need to wear a collar unless you happen to want one, of course, but there’s a lot to be said for private symbols that remind you of the bond between you and your beloved - like matching bracelets, for example. Speak more openly and honestly about your sexual self. BDSM encourages people to share their fantasies in ways that other relationship types don’t. There’s a lot to be said for opening up in this way, though - there’s nothing more intimate than discovering that your partner is a safe space, to be honest about your deepest desires. After all, and if they’re also interested in trying those things out you might find yourself having some of the best sex you've ever dreamed of. Formalise some of your likes, preferences and limits. It’s standard practice in the BDSM community to have a list of ‘favourites’ and ‘limits’: things you’re especially keen to do and things that you are not at all comfortable with doing that are therefore off the table no matter what kind of dynamic you have with your partner. This idea has a lot to say for itself in vanilla relationships, too; by being clear and honest with both yourself and your partner about what you like most and what you have no desire to try (or try again). You’ll learn more about your sexual self as well as theirs, and be well on the way to a healthier and happier sex life - complete with all the intimacy that brings. Whatever you choose to do, it’s important to remember that you shouldn't let yourself be pressured into trying things you’re not comfortable with and that trust and safety should be at the forefront of your mind - and your partner’s - at all times.  Modelphoto: colourbox.com  Written by Abi BrownAbi Brown is a freelance writer and general pen-for-hire devoted to sexual deviancy, far-left politics and wearing too much jewellery.
  4. Have you ever wondered why more intimacy could improve well-being? The reality is that if you feel good about yourself, then the rest will follow, as it is just as much about what we say and how we act towards our partners as it is about sex. The sexual act brings excitement and gratification. What is equally as important is the closeness afterwards, mindfulness and cuddling, that improves well-being. A tiring day can take its toll. Having your partner to talk to at the end of it is both rewarding and stress-reducing. There are many other factors which can help with feeling good and increase intimacy. A spontaneous kiss or hug, for example. Being sympathetic towards your partner’s feelings by responding to their mood will improve mutual well-being and harmony.  Reliable ways to improve well-being by increasing intimacy: 1. Relationships and How They can Affect Our Well-Being According to The National Centre for Biotechnology Information, relationships, whether they are short or long term, will affect us in many ways. Factors to consider are the depth and quality of the partnership. Their research shows that both physical and mental health can be affected. Indeed, children from unhappy or broken homes will find it harder to give themselves totally to a loving relationship by increasing intimacy. This lack results in friction between partners. It is considered to be a difficult problem to overcome, but honesty is always best. Talk openly together. A sympathetic lover will understand and take their time to resolve issues.  2. Is Passion The Only Way To Increase Intimacy? There are many ways of increasing intimacy. Psychologist Robert J. Sternberg, quoted in an article by Susan K Perry Ph.D., discovered that, after carrying out a survey, physical intimacy was the most typical method. One of the reasons given was the lover's facial expressions. The closeness of giving oneself completely during lovemaking also helps to better well-being. Of course, sometimes it is enough just to be together, caressing and kissing. Just because this doesn't ultimately lead to intercourse, it is no less erotic or satisfying.  3. Understand You and Your Partner's Emotional Experiences According to UWire, it is important to understand your emotions, so that you can talk together about your more complex feelings. It is especially important for couples that have emotional intimacy as well as sexual, to find a greater bond, without stress, which improves well-being. It is not always that both partners feel like making love, so compromise is the key to increasing intimacy. Showing consideration and kindness will go a long way to improving and maintaining the relationship. If your partner is too tired, then a gentle massage with scented oils will arouse the senses and reduce stress. Perhaps they have had a bad day. Talk about it and understand their emotions.  4. Have Special Times Together - Do Something Different Happiness is an essential feature in both increasing intimacy and to make you feel happy. A research paper from the Harvard Medical School, showed that by being grateful for life and everything it throws at us, is the best way to see the goodness in ourselves. This gratitude, in turn, helps us to connect with others. To show them kindness and to understand their feelings better. Also, it improves health, the ability to deal with problems and help to develop strong relationships. And not just with our partners, but with everyone. Many couples find that simply by doing things together, such as playing golf, tennis or walking the dog can improve well-being which, in turn, can lead to increasing intimacy.  5. Tell Each Other Your Secrets Having secrets will create distrust, resulting in arguments, stress and, potentially, health problems. It is important to remember to listen and not judge. When your partner tells you their secrets, they are doing it to unburden themselves as well as find understanding. Be mindful of just how difficult it is to talk about sensitive subjects. Listen carefully and be constructive with your questions and responses. This way many problems that have occurred can be resolved.  Have fun by asking each other these ‘36 Questions That Lead to Love’ and get closer to each other while doing so. Remember - sharing your innermost thoughts and being able to compromise is crucial for mutual well-being.  6. Does Routine Improve Well-Being? Some of us think that predictability is boring while others relish it. However, Robert J. Sternberg a Professor of Human Development at Cornell University found that it can help in increasing intimacy. His quote in Susan K Perry PhD's article, states that 'the partners are so connected with each other that the one doesn't recognise the other is there, just as the air we breathe can be taken for granted, despite its necessity to life'. Over time, we can become complacent about our partners good and bad points. Often we know each other so well, we can live our lives together in complete harmony. However, getting into a rut should be avoided.  7. Openness Will Help To Increase Mindfulness It is important not to try to change your partner after all this is the person that you fell in love with. You might find that you wouldn’t like them any other way! Be non-judgemental, kind and sensitive to their feelings at all times. This will bring you closer together, thus increasing intimacy. By being open with each other, you will learn to sense when something is troubling them. Avoid confrontational moments by simply asking how they are feeling. This sort of relationship will improve well-being and harmonious coexistence. Each person will feel that they can be themselves. The same should hold true in the bedroom. Exchange ideas about what you both enjoy. This type of mindfulness will go a long way towards increasing intimacy and openness.  8. A Good Match In a Partnership - Is It Important? Sometimes opposites attract. How we interact together in a partnership which depends very much on each individual and their need for personal space. This understanding also explains why some people transfer their affections to, for example, dogs. From a 1997 study, 'Why Do People Love Their Pets?’ by J Archer, resulted showed that people can sometimes give their pets far more affection than they do family members. However, if this is mutual, then there usually is no problem.  Some of the reasons why pets are so much a part of the family include their unconditional love, constant companionship and appreciation of everything that we do for them. Pets are also beneficial to our health. For example, the act of stroking can lower blood pressure, reduce loneliness and give you a sense of being. Going for a walk with your dog is another example. Good exercise aside; it allows us to interact with otherwise complete strangers, brought together by a love of animals.  9. Happiness and Kindness Are Of Major Importance By giving to others, we are far more likely to receive the same back. For example, a child brought up in a loving family environment where hugging and kissing are the norm, will grow into an adult that is willing and happy to show affection. Mary Jo Kreitzer, Ph.D., RN states that all relationships, casual or intimate, are essential to our feeling of happiness. This, in turn, helps children to grow into open-minded, confident individuals. Bean Robinson, PhD, in the same article, states that ‘We are very social creatures. In terms of sex, there seems to be a real need for touch and connection’. Being aware of this can lead the way to increasing intimacy.  The Course of Well-Being in Romantic Relationships: Predicting Positive Affect in Dating Participants. Psychology, 3, 1091-1099. doi: 10.4236/psych.2012.312A161 is an intriguing paper. It covers the different ways in which we try to make ourselves happier. The experiment ran for over eight weeks. During which participants, both in and out of romantic relationships were studied. Results revealed that being romantically involved did not necessarily improve well-being. Many participants exhibited more positive emotions and an increase in intimacy which proved beneficial. In order to improve well-being by increasing intimacy, it is important to have positive feelings about yourself. To be open and thoughtful towards your partner and others, while at the same time appreciating the wonderful times together and putting any unhappy ones firmly in the past.  Model photo: Colourbox.com Images licensed by Ingram Image  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  5. Fulfilling relationships are about Communication Ask someone what they think of when you say “kink” or “BDSM” and, even if they’re not into kink at all, it’ll be something about pain or rope or leather. You’ll also talk about sex and fetishes. A lot of people focus on what makes kink stand out from non-kink. That’s the fun part for a lot of us, but there’s another level to many kinky and fulfilling relationships that anyone can benefit from doing in their own relationship.  Kink and BDSM don’t work unless both parties are willing to communicate with each other. You don’t have to be kinky for that to be good for your relationship. It’s both as simple as and as hard as doing very specific things:  Say what you feel - good or bad Communicate your desires, even the ones that are new to you or you’re ashamed of Share your fears - about sex, relationships, and everything else Listen to each other - without thinking of what you’re going to say next It’s important not to be judgemental about what the other person is telling you. They may admit to a curious desire to something you find repulsive. Instead of judging them based on how you feel about it, let them know it’s safe to talk you. We have a saying in BDSM: Your kink isn’t my kink, but your kink is okay. The same is true outside of kink. You don’t have to want something for yourself for it to be okay for your partner.  Communication isn’t only about sex, though. Sharing fears, concerns, and worries that you have at work, at school, in your relationship, and in life bring you closer to each other. You’ll develop a trust and a bond that comes with knowing each other intimately.  Be Open to New Things In a BDSM relationship, we discuss both hard and soft limits, as well as our desires. A hard limit is something you have no desire to try, it may even disgust you to imagine it. A soft limit is something that you’re unsure of, maybe even nervous about, but you would try it - at least once. This works when you’re not kinky, too. Fulfilling relationships aren't always about sex. You may have a no-pet policy in your relationship, but you’d be willing to consider a goldfish. You may say you hate to travel, but if your partner was with you, you’d consider a road trip. The growth of a relationship is proportional to the growth of the people in that relationship. When you try new things - whether it’s a new sexual position or you ride a roller coaster for the first time - you learn something about yourself, and you grow.  Successful relationships, kinky or not, thrive on trying new things. It fosters communication, experimentation, new ideas, and new opinions. Every relationship can benefit from that.  Understanding Consent The quickest way to break someone’s trust is to violate their consent. Most of the time, we’re talking about sex when we discuss consent. In a kinky relationship, not everything we do is sexual. Sometimes it’s about the kinky play - being tied up, being blindfolded, or anything not directly related to sexual intercourse. When you say no, whether it’s a clear, “No!” or a safeword like, “Purple banana!” or you don’t enthusiastically say yes to any activity, that lack of consent must be respected.  It’s important to understand consent on a deeper level - for both parties. If you’re going to try something new, you’ll want to be able to give informed consent. This means that you have some idea of what to expect, what will happen, and what it will feel like. Your “new thing” could be a new restaurant, meeting someone new, or a new vibrator. We feel more at ease about our decisions when we have an idea of what to expect.  Saying yes to something blindly can lead to bad surprises. And having someone ignore you when you say no will too. It will also create a crack in your relationship that can be hard to repair, and may break your relationship. Consent should be informed, understood, clear, and, above all, respected.  Take Care of Each Other In BDSM, there is always a top and a bottom or a Dominant and a submissive. One controls, the other gives up control. One has the power, the other consents to that power.  What most people don’t realize, however, is that in the best BDSM relationships, each person takes care of the other. We fulfill each other’s needs as much as we can. We help each other. We build each other up, care for each other, and nurture our passions and goals. Every relationship can benefit from a bit of care.  Even if your relationship isn’t one you expect to last forever, while you’re together, genuinely try to make that person’s life a little better. It may only be better while you’re in each other’s presence, and it should never violate your own ethics and morals, but asking how their day went, giving them a hug, encouraging them in their goals - these are all ways to easily take care of someone.  Celebrate Your Differences Yes, compatibility is important in any relationship. If you didn’t have a single thing in common, things could get awkward and boring quickly. That being said, where you’re different are opportunities to learn and grow as individuals.  Don’t shame or allow yourself to be shamed for wanting or liking something different than your partner. Instead, use it as a place to begin a new journey for yourself, with your partner, or, if you’re interested in a more open relationship, with someone new.  An open relationship won’t work without openness, honesty, integrity, trust, and constant communication in your relationship. When people think about BDSM or kink, sex and fetish are usually the first things that come to mind. It’s what excites some people and turns others off. But there’s much more to kinky relationships than that. Look beneath the surface, and you’ll find bonds that run deep. Everyone can benefit and find satisfaction from the things that really make fulfilling relationships work.     Model Photo: Colourbox.com  Written by Kayla LordsKayla Lords is a freelance writer, sex blogger, and a masochistic babygirl living the 24/7 D/s life. She hosts a weekly podcast, Loving BDSM, where she and her Dominant talk about loving BDSM in a loving D/s relationship and share what they've learned and experienced as a kinky couple.