“Manners are the happy ways of doing things; each once a stroke of genius or of love, now repeated and hardened into usage” Ralph Waldo Emerson
Why would manners have anything to do with happiness? Manners are the means to smooth the rough edges off the coarseness of life. The soft rounded corners are pleasing to the touch and the heart. The simplest manners are those of showing respect such as arriving on time or of kindness such as holding a door for another. Kind and respectful actions make us feel worthy and the responses we receive are generally grateful; positive reinforcement in the form of a smile or a kind word.
Viewing oneself as kind, generous and respectful is satisfying and brings its own reward in feeling good. The stress of running late, dealing with someone who is rude in response to our actions, struggling when it is unnecessary, do not add to wellbeing. The simple manners are the natural result of thoughtfulness, kindness, an awareness of the needs or discomfort of others.
The more complex manners I believe come from a need for familiarity and order. Setting a table in a prescribed fashion, using the utensils in a specified manner, are inclusive actions of a cultural norm. It is a way of saying, “we are from the same place with the same concept of order”. We are more relaxed and comfortable when the rules are known and thinking about which fork to use does not occupy a moment of thought. Learning the complex rules can be a task if one is not born to them, is transplanted from a different culture, or has difficulty in recognizing and understanding the cues of others. The rewards of fitting in and feeling comfortable are worth the effort. The best way to acquire the most common of these is through observation. Whether it is scouting out the employees of a potential employer to learn the proper attire for an interview, sitting back and watching the interaction of the members of a lunch group you have been invited to join, mindfulness comes in to play here as well.
Beyond the complex manners are the archaic manners, no longer applicable in today’s world that give us insight into our past and in many cases are the precursors to more modern manners. No matter the degree from simple to archaic, to be mindful of one’s impact on another, choosing a positive impression instead of an oblivious or negative one connects us to others in a warmer, sincere way. The small niceties create happiness whether generated or reflected.