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The importance of good manners

By Your Headspace Mindfulness & Meditation Experts

Good manners cost nothing. These are wise words that we probably remember being taught as children, and those who are now parents probably repeat to their own kids.

But while these gifts are free to give, the simple offerings of being polite and kind — like saying please and thank you, listening carefully, and making eye contact with people — can bring huge benefits to ourselves and those around us.

In this article

  • What are good manners?
  • Mindfulness your manners
  • How to teach kids good manners

They can help us appear more confident, maintain more fulfilling personal relationships, lead to us prospering at work and generally enjoying happier and healthier lives.

But what we probably didn’t realize when we were being taught to be well-mannered as children — and perhaps those teaching it didn’t recognize either — is that when we were learning about good manners, we were often learning about mindfulness.

By living more mindfully, it can lead to us naturally having better manners and help us to live a more prosperous life — without spending a cent.

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What are good manners?

By practicing basic good manners, we are showing those around us that we respect them and are considerate to their feelings. This makes them feel better, and us too.

Most of us have heard the old adage: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This wisdom is so ingrained in our life lessons, it has become known as “the golden rule.”

Examples of good manners can manifest themselves in seemingly small actions and rewards — like holding the door open for someone and receiving a silent smile of recognition in return. But it can also make or break crucial relationships and be the difference between harmony and conflict at home, at work, or even between countries and cultures on the world stage.

Like any rule, there are some exceptions, and we must appreciate that others’ experiences, needs, and boundaries can be different from our own.

But it is a concept with solid and natural roots. And Kristen Monroe, director of the University of California Irvine Interdisciplinary Center for the Scientific Study of Ethics and Morality, says: "There is a lot of good, if emerging, scientific work suggesting people have an innate sense of fairness built into them and that the golden rule captures much of that innate moral sense. A lot of people instinctively follow it.”

So if that moral sense of respect and fairness is already built into us, let’s look at how to unlock it naturally to benefit ourselves and others around us.

Mindfulness your manners

Meditation can be a great training ground for mindfulness. We meditate to practice being more present in the moment and then develop the ability to use these skills in our day-to-day lives, and that is living mindfully.

Being more present is crucial when it comes to looking at how to get good manners. That could mean being focused on one thing — or person — without being lost in the thoughts in your head. If we are present when we meet someone, for example, we are more likely to remember their name, which is an admirable skill associated with well-mannered people.

Empathy is another of the most important building blocks of a healthy relationship and treating others with kindness. And being able to understand how someone else is feeling — and having a spirit of generosity — is an important component of how to improve manners.

Headspace co-founder and former Buddhist monk Andy Puddicombe says, “Empathy does not require that we have been through the same thing as another person, simply that we meet them where they are now.”

Meditation for compassion — or loving kindness meditation — can help to nurture and release our natural empathy. This meditation encourages us to direct good will first onto ourselves, and then to others. The more we practice this meditation, the more we can let go of judgment and hostility, and apply this kindness to our everyday interactions.

Researchers from Emory University discovered that compassion meditation could improve our ability to empathize with those around us and to activate the areas of the brain associated with compassion.

And an important way to make those around you feel happy, positive, and at ease is to embrace that state of mind yourself. Headspace offers guided meditations to help us change our relationship with the thoughts that can sometimes cloud our happiness and reconnect with our underlying sense of contentment; it includes a 10-day happiness course. A study published in the Journal of Happiness Studies found 10 days of Headspace increased happiness by 16%.

Another example of where we can be more present in our lives — and where a lot of our life lessons on social etiquette are taught from an early age — is having good table manners.

Mindful eating encourages us to remove distractions and sit uninterrupted with our food and fellow diners. This encourages a healthier relationship with our food and with those eating with us.

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How to teach kids good manners

The dinner table is often one of the key places we discuss manners with our children – but we also know there are many other elements to encouraging good manners for kids.

Headspace offers specific meditation for kids that can help nurture a kind, focused, and calm young mind. Headspace for Kids splits its content into three age groups: 5 and under, 6-8 and 9-12 and features collaborations with Sesame Street to teach kids about mindfulness.

Among the specific themes are helping children to be calm with simple breathing exercises, using their imagination to practice a relaxed, precise kind of focus, and encouraging kindness using visualization exercises to teach children about openness and generosity.

Headspace founder Andy says, “It’s almost as though meditation was designed for kids. They just get it – there is this elasticity and freedom in their minds which allows them to be present in the moment and free from any external thoughts or pressures.”

“By introducing meditation and mindfulness at an early age, not only can we build on this and help nurture their mind development, but we are also making meditation simple and accessible.”

And, of course, a good first step in showing kids the importance of good manners is to be a positive role model with our own behavior. Mindful parenting involves being fully present with our children, free from distractions and judgment, and with a soft and open mind.

Join more than 66 million people who have downloaded the Headspace app, which features hundreds of guided meditations to help us live with empathy, compassion, and to be more present in the moment. Be kind to your mind. Start with a free trial of Headspace.

READ NEXT: How to be more empathetic

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