When my son was five, one of my work colleagues, Jennifer, came over for dinner bearing gifts for our kids (always a nice warm up, huh?). Jen brought the kids some window painting crafts (as you can see in the picture) and was fully engaged in asking them questions while sitting on the floor at eye level. Clearly she LOVED getting to know children. Within five minutes of chatting with Jen, my son grabbed a couple of his Lego characters and plopped down in her lap to give her a closer look. Jen now jokes that he "had me at hello," talks about how nice it is that he is a "snuggler," and speaks about how "sweet" my son is. I'm not one to argue with compliments, but what happened had more to do with Jennifer than my son. You see, he was responding to her initial engagement with him... her desire to connect with him in the first place, demonstrated by her gifts, posture, and interest in all things "him."
The dynamic of Jen's interaction with my son applies much more broadly; it shows how people (not just kids) respond when you are fully engaged and savoring their company.
In fact, I'd argue that one of the greatest compliments you can give a person is to enjoy them.
Isn't that an odd thought?
In this era of constant computer connection, I don't think there's higher praise than to have someone show up, pay attention, and delight in being around you. The phenomenon isn't limited to kids; all of us feel this way. (We just don't plop down in your lap in response!)
Think about the people who you love being around most. How do they behave when you're speaking to them? How do they react to your stories? Do they ever ask you follow-up questions from your previous chats?
I bet the people you enjoy the most behave like Jen did with my kids; they communicate that they LIKE being around you. They behave in ways that say that your opinion counts, that your stories are engaging, that you MATTER. People who enjoy you don't look for other conversations to join, they don't check their Facebook page or tweet while you're with them. Instead, they want to hear your stories and they ask for your opinion on the events in their life.
I think about this when I think about my marriage.
More than anything, I want my husband to know how much I enjoy his company. When we were dating, I found that Billy's quick wit surprised me; his words lightened my mood and made me get outside of my opinions long enough to embrace a different perspective. I enjoyed his humor and his approach to me. These days I feel the same way, but it also feels like I'm choosing to enjoy his opinion. I find myself looking for it. I found that what I first enjoyed about Billy has led me to something even more enjoyable. This is how love works and grows, I think. It's like following a path of breadcrumbs...discovering one that leads to something even greater.
When I'm around people who are struggling in their marriages, what I notice first is that they don't relish each other's company. Instead of laughing at the joke their spouse makes, they roll their eyes. Rather than finding their spouse's quirks humorous, they find them annoying. When one spouse comments on the other, their remarks have a critical edge that makes anyone who hears them cringe. They make little effort to "try" to enjoy the other. It seems as if the breadcrumb trail to greater things has been snatched away. When we make no attempt to enjoy a person today, we might never discover who he or she might be tomorrow. Sure, we all know that some days enjoying others take work, but, like all good things, the gain comes with the doing which leads to the growing.
I think about this with my kids.
When children are babies and just learning to smile, talk, and walk, they are naturally fascinating. The changes happen so fast, it's easy to stay engaged. However, as they grow, distractions and diversions can edge out my focus and enjoyment of them. Questions for me: How am I doing when my kids are relaying the stories from the playground? What if they want to tell me jokes that have been around since I was in grade school? Do I laugh, or am I engrossed in my own thoughts? Do I stop long enough to enjoy them? Do I spend more time staring at a screen or into their faces...at eye level even if that is floor level?
I see parents who have lost the enjoyment in parenting because they have lost their fascination with their kids. On many days, I see how I could do the same thing.
I think about this with my friends.
How well do I listen? Am I constantly distracted or fully engaged? I have a story for EVERYTHING, but do I take an interest in other people's stories? How skilled am I in the art of asking a good question...so I can listen to what ANOTHER person thinks? Do I engage and remember things that are important to others? I want to be the kind of friend who is known for being fully present.
I think about these things when I look through a window that is covered in homemade art projects. I want to consciously make a choice to honor people by enjoying them.
How much do you enjoy the people around you?