How do you feel right now?
Are you happy?
Do you have somebody you could call to share some good news or a problem with? In other words, do you have good friendships, close family bonds and intimate relationships in your life?
This contributes much more to your happiness than you might realise.
Scientific research shows that the happier we are, the more likely we are to have friends, a romantic partner and other types of social support. Happy people also tend to receive support from friends, supervisors and co-workers. This works both ways – if we take the time to cultivate meaningful relationships in our lives, we can actually experience greater levels of happiness.
Developing warm, trusting relationships with other people leads us to flourish, which is described by scientist Barbara Fredrickson as the ability to function at extraordinarily high levels, both psychologically and socially. “People who flourish spend more time each day with the people they’re close to, and less time alone.”
I like my alone-time as much as anyone else. In fact, in order to be truly happy, I know that I must have regular moments of solitude. I actually used to prize these moments of introspection above social interactions. I viewed the latter as, more-or-less, a waste of time compared to goal setting and achievement.
Perhaps you often feel the same, like you’d rather curl up with a good book or stay in and watch T.V. instead of going out and being sociable. While it’s important to honour your feelings, remember that you gain more positivity by being with others than by being alone.
You don’t need to spend every waking moment surrounded by people, but every day, make an effort to connect with others. This doesn’t mean forsaking what’s important to you, including career-focused goals. It just means adding more richness and variety to your life, without which you can’t be happy. Remember, nobody reaches their full potential in isolation.
We each have an evolutionary need to belong; and to seek out and maintain strong, stable and positive interpersonal relationships. That’s why we resist the break-up of friendships and other relationships; because without the sense of belonging, we suffer numerous negative consequences to our mental and physical health.
Even if you consider connecting with other people painful because you’re not particularly out-going, simply act like it. Scientific experiments have shown that if you pretend to be an extravert, you’ll not only benefit more from your social interactions with other people, but you will become more extraverted.
Through strong social connections, we can also experience love. Who could forget the delicious feeling that comes with falling in love, particularly for the first time? Personally, I wouldn’t give that up for anything. Moments like that are priceless and are part of what makes life worth living.
Starting today, try to improve and cultivate the relationships in your life as a way to greater happiness. The increased positive emotions you’ll feel will help you attract higher-quality relationships in your life; which in turn will make you happier.
Forging meaningful connections also means that you’ll experience greater social support in times of stress. This can be through having people you can confide in, or those who can assist you in a tangible way such as driving you to the hospital when you’re ill.
My father’s passing has been the single most significant event in my life to date. It would’ve been traumatic had I not had support from my family and love from my friends. Without any prompting, people spontaneously showed me that they cared. They baked cakes, brought me flowers or simply stayed with me. That warmth and generosity did more to heal me than I could possibly articulate.
This kind of strong social support keeps us healthier and actually helps us live longer! Studies of people who live long, such as the Sardinians in Italy, the Okinawans in Japan and Seventh-Day Adventists in Loma Linda, California, showed that amongst the things they had in common were that they ‘put family first’ and ‘remained socially engaged.’
So if you’re ready to start investing in healthy, strong relationships, here’re a few strategies you might like to try.
First, make time. No matter how busy you are, connect with people. Set time aside time for no reason other than to spend it with someone close to you. Although it can be fun, watching T.V. together doesn’t count. Neither does talking about the children’s problems at school. During your time together, focus on whoever you’re with. Tell them how grateful you are that they’re in your life; and specifically, what you appreciate about them. Look for ways to touch their life either by sending them sweet notes or by buying them small but inexpensive gifts.
Second, communicate. Share what’s in your heart and listen to your friend or partner talk about anything that’s important to them. Where appropriate, convey feelings of love or affection. This cultivates intimacy and encourages the creation of a safe space that you can both enjoy; and use to share future triumphs or tribulations.
Finally, be supportive.
When your friend or partner shares some good news with you, allow them to bask in the good feelings it generates and share in their triumph. Ask lots of questions about how they arrived at that point; and their feelings about it. Try to relive the experience with them or even mark it with a celebration. Whatever you do, don’t feel envious, belittle their achievement, or acknowledge it briefly and then move straight on to the topic of the Zebras qualifying for the Africa Cup of Nations. Savour their joy with them and, if in doubt, react how you would like them to if the roles were reversed.
This week, focus on forging meaningful connections in your life and see if it doesn’t boost your happiness. As Author, Anais Nin put it, “each contact with a human being is so rare, so precious, one should preserve it”.