Relationships – One of Seven Habits to Cultivate Happiness

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“There is only one happiness in life, to love and be loved”  George Sand


One of the Happiness Habits is to build close relationships in which you can share your personal feelings and reveal your authentic self.  Ellen Berscheid wrote that “relationships constitute the single most important factor responsible for the survival of homo sapiens


People who have one or more close relationships appear to be happier. It doesn’t seem to matter if we have a large network of close friends or not. What seems to make a difference is if and how often we cooperate in activities and share our personal feelings with a friend or relative. Simply put, it’s not the quantity of our relationships, but the quality that matters.


People who have one or more close friendships appear to be happier and healthier as well.  A summary of research by Bert Uchino shows that positive relationships can have a positive impact on our health, recovery times, and even our longevity.    In their book titled Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener said that

“Like food and air, we seem to need social relationships to thrive.”    The “Grant Study” followed 268 Harvard students beginning in the late 1930’s and continuing through their lifetimes.   They discovered that those students who were good at forming relationships lived longer than those who were not. 

In 2002, two pioneers of Positive Psychology, Ed Diener and Martin Seligman, conducted a study at the University of Illinois on the 10% of students with the highest scores recorded on a survey of personal happiness. They found that the most salient characteristics shared by students who were very happy and showed the fewest signs of depression were “their strong ties to friends and family and commitment to spending time with them.” (“The New Science of Happiness,” Time Magazine, Claudia Wallis, Jan. 09, 2005).

In one study people were asked on random occasions about their mood. They were found to be happiest with their friends, followed by family members, and least happy if they were alone (Larson). Another study constructed a scale of cooperativeness, ie how willing people were to constructively engage in activities with others. This study showed that the cooperativeness of an individual was a predictor of their happiness, though it did not conclusively show if their cooperation resulted in happiness or the other way around (Lu). A study on the quality of relationships found that to avoid loneliness people needed only one close relationship coupled with a network of other relationships. To form a close relationship required a growing amount of “self-disclosure,” or a willingness to reveal ones personal issues and feelings, and without it people with friends would still be lonely (Weiss). A similar study found that some students who had many friends with whom they often spent time were still plagued by loneliness, and this seemed to be related to their tendency to talk about impersonal topics such as sports and pop music instead of their personal life (Weeler).

In their book Connected, Christakis and Fowler showed that you can influence a friend’s happiness by as much as 15% and you can influence your friend’s friend’s happiness by as much as 10%.

The bottom line is that nurturing positive relationships is good for your happiness.


Some activities to help you improve your relationships:


  1. List 3 relationships you should nurture.   What can you do work on those relationships.
  2. Write a letter of gratitude to one of the people on your list and share it with them in person.
  3. Ritualize your relationships – schedule a monthly lunch, a Bowling night, a revolving dinner party, or holiday tradition.
  4. Become a joiner – join a group that does activities you enjoy like reading, sailing, walking, etc.
  5. Help your friends be happier.

Making Happiness Soup

I have heard a lot of questions and discussions about the one thing that leads to happiness. Everyone wants to know, “What is the one secret?”  Even happiness research focuses on one skill or activity at a time, because researchers need to isolate a variable in order to find clear answers about causality.

Is it possible we are complicating the problem by attempting to over-simplify.  A single happiness secret seems like it would be easier, but it may result in us missing the wonderfully unique facets and variations of happiness. The happiest individuals, organizations, and even countries do not look alike; while they may have some similarities to one another, they are unique in how they experience and express happiness.

Based on the research we have seen, happiness might be compared to homemade soup.  It has a basic set of ingredients, but they can be mixed in thousands of different variations to suit the taste of the individual.

Happiness Soup Recipe


  1. Relationships – start with a base of relationships. Create and nurture positive relationships with the most important people in your life. Own the success of the relationship and share your closest feelings and authentic self. Relationships will form a strong base to which other ingredients can be added.
  2. Strengths – These are kind of like the vegetables in your soup. They make it hardy and unique.  Everyone brings their own combination of vegetables and strengths and everyone uses them in different ways. The key is to not get carried away and forget about them. You need to know what they are and find every opportunity to use them.
  3. Health – Eating right, getting enough sleep, and exercising is like a seasoning. It adds zest and energy to the soup. Without health, your soup would be bland and unappealing. By taking care of your health and doing the right things in the right amounts, your soup always has a lively and interesting flavor.
  4. Caring and Kindness – Do kind things and give to others. It is like salt and pepper in the soup. It adds a little more flavor. You mix in different amounts on different days.
  5. Purpose – With purpose, some people add a lot and some people add a little. You probably start with a little when you are younger and add more as you get older and discover more about yourself. It gives the soup character and direction. Just like your life, it is what unites the soup and brings it all together.
  6. Positive Mindset – Positive mindset is the heat you can turn up or down to cook your soup.  The more positively you think, the hotter the soup gets and the better the ingredients mix together to form that wonderful flavor. On days when you have a less positive mindset, you have to eat your happiness soup a little cold. But once you turn it back up, you can feel the warmth and satisfaction as your soup lights up all the right taste buds at once.

Since this is homemade soup, we don’t use preservatives.  Sometimes you can set aside enough to get you through the rough days, but mostly you have to make it and mix it every day. When you are running low, your friends and neighbors will offer you a little of their happiness soup. But eventually you have wake one morning and start making your own again. The ingredients and flavors change as our lives change, but if we practice every day, we can always create wonderful new flavors of happiness soup.

Happiness in the News

The good news; happiness is starting to consistently make headlines.  The bad news; not everyone is happy.  More good news; there are a lot actions you can take to become happier.


Happiness at Work

From a recent New York Daily News article:

Workplace morale heads down: 70% of Americans negative about their jobs, Gallup study shows ‘Bosses from hell’ are giving U.S. workers the Monday blues. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace report had grim findings, including that 70% of those surveyed either hate work or are completely disengaged, and perks don’t help.

A Harvard Business Review blog offered some hope by explaining how to create a happier team.

“Happy, engaged employees are good for an organization. Research shows they are more creative, produce better results, and are willing to go the extra mile. What’s more, happiness is contagious; it creates a virtuous cycle that leads to further engagement. To bring more of that into your team, focus on what psychologists have identified as the three pathways to happiness: pleasure, engagement, and meaning. Consider whether you are actively encouraging these things in your people. Do they enjoy their relationships and their environment at work? Do they laugh? Do they fill roles that fit their skill sets and offer appropriate challenges? Do they feel they’re a part of something that matters? If the answer is no to any of these questions, brainstorm how you can adjust the team environment to bring more happiness in.”

Jonathan from Advance Life Skills gives us some insight into productivity and happiness.  It seems we all want to be more and more productive.  The problem is we don’t know when we are productive enough.  We interfere with our happy and relaxing times by trying to be more productive so we can have more happy and relaxing times.  This sends us into a downward spiral of unhappy productivity.   Being productive helps us feel accomplished and good about ourselves.  The challenge is we have to create balance.  We are being productive so we can have time to be happy.  To be happy we need to identify times to stop being overly focused on productivity and just be happy and in the moment.  Set your priorities and know when to step off the productivity merry-go-round and enjoy the moment, time with your family and friends, and all that you have accomplished.



Happiness from Giving

Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton, authors of the recently released Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending, offer some ideas based on their research of giving money away.  They offered participants either $5 or $20 and gave them one of two possible scenarios.  Spend the money on themselves before the end of the day or spend it on someone else.  They measured the participants’ happiness before and after they spent the money and found that the people who spent the money on someone else were much happier than those who spent it on themselves.  It didn’t matter whether they got $5 or $20 spending the money on someone else made them measurably happier.  Dunn and Norton and offer several tips for how to spend money and become happier including; Buy Experiences, Make it a Treat, Buy Time, Pay Now – Consumer Later, and Invest in others. You can read more here and here.


You can read more about the 7 Habits of Happiness or about Happiness in the Workplace.

How to get Happy – 4 Concepts connected to Leadership and Success

Over the years I have had the opportunity to study leadership and success.   I am struck by the connections between each area and how those connections are similar for happiness as well.


Your first test on happiness:

  1. Do you want to:
    1. Receive happiness like winning the lottery or receiving a gift?
    2. Experience happiness as a state of mind?

If you choose A, then you may be waiting for a while, possibly forever.  However, if you choose B, then we, the team at, have a lot to share that may be helpful.


Sonja Lyubomirsky, in her book The How of Happiness, explained that happiness is created through our daily intentional activities.  This is consistent with Leadership and Success as well.   Happiness is within our ability to control with what we do in our daily lives and how we think.


Here are 4 concepts that will provide a framework for exploring happiness.

The first concept is understanding the difference between Pleasure and Happiness.   Are you chasing immediate pleasures like sex, decadent foods, couch time, and video time, or are you nurturing relationships, maintaining your health through diet and exercise,  finding ways to improve yourself, and being thankful for what is working in your life.  The pursuit of pleasure involves feeling good in the short-term at the possible risk of negative long-term outcomes; the pursuit of happiness consists of intentional activities and habits that promote long term health and well-being.



The second concept is taking control of your life.   George Bernard Shaw although a little gruff, was headed in the right direction when he explained pursuing happiness as, “…being a force of Nature instead of a feverish little selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. “  Do you own your decisions and the consequences of those decisions?  Are you deciding every day to invest in the habits and activities that will lead to happiness or are you waiting and hoping that happiness will find you?


The third concept is cultivating close positive relationships.  Do you have a few close friends you can talk to and share tell about your failures and successes? People who know and appreciate the real you, the good and the bad?  Are you caring and sharing in the community? Is there a person, group, or cause that you care for and give to?  The acts of sharing our true selves with others and caring for others are the most important things we can do to generate happiness and contentment in our lives.


The fourth concept is finding and expressing purpose and meaning.  The full George Bernard Shaw quote is:

This is the true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one; the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap; the being a force of Nature instead of a feverish little selfish clod of ailments and grievances complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.


Do you have something bigger than yourself to focus on?  Is there something bigger that you believe in or something that you know you were meant to do?  For many people this can be expressed in their religion or other spiritual pursuits.  Others may focus on their children or their meaningful contributions.


In summary, if you are choosing to pursue happiness:

  1. Understand the difference between Pleasure and Happiness
  2. Take control of your life and your happiness.
  3. Develop close positive relationships and care for others.
  4. Find and express purpose and meaning in your life.


As described above for happiness, leadership and success require a long term perspective, action and ownership, strong relationships, and a sense of purpose.


Also like Leadership and Success, happiness is not a possession that can be acquired.   It is a state of mind resulting from the cultivation of intentional daily habits.    It has to be pursued, explored, and experienced on an on-going basis.   Find out more about how to cultivate Happiness Habits at