“. . . relationships with other humans are both the foundation and the theme of the human condition: We are born into relationships, we live our lives in relationships with others, and when we die, the effects of our relationships survive in the lives of the living, reverberating throughout the tissue of their relationships” Berscheid
How can you be healthier, happier, more successful, and live longer? The answer is positive relationships. Positive relationships form a foundation for happiness and success. We all have relationships we have chosen like our friends, relationships we have inherited like our family, and relationships that are a result of our circumstances like work and classmates. How we navigate and participate in these relationships has a significant impact on our happiness as well as our health, longevity, and success. Creating positive relationships will make us happier, while surrendering to and becoming victims of negative relationships and the related drama will be an obstacle to our happiness. Lyubomirsky, Diener, and King wrote that one of the most robust findings in the happiness research is that happy people have better social relationships.
Whelan and Zelenski conducted research where they showed participants film clips that were positive, neutral, or negative. They wanted to determine if the film clip would change the participants’ level of happiness and if that change would result in more or less social interest. They were able to confirm that by showing participants the positive film clips and making them happier, they were also more interested in social contact. Positive relationships help people become happier and happier people are more likely to be in positive relationships.
We all have a need to belong and to find positive relationships that help satisfy that need. The word positive refers to whether the relationship involves caring and concern. Unpleasant or unsatisfying interactions result in a negative relationship. Delongis’ research showed that it is not just having a relationship, but having a positive relationship that creates the benefits of health and well-being.
Hang out with people even to do little things. Gerstel and Gross noted in their study of cummuter couples that “insubstantial interactions” like small talk or just enjoying each other’s company were important to a relationship. Making small talk about trivial things helps people feel happier and healthier. But talking on the phone was not enough. Seeing each other in person is more effective than just talking on the phone, which has ramifications for today’s technology. Facebook, texting, and online video chats are better than no contact, but nothing is better than spending time in person. Face to face contact and doing even mundane things together helped solidify a positive relationship.
Choose happy friends. Hanging out with happy friends instead of sad friends makes us happier. Each happy friend increases our probability of being happy by 9%, while each unhappy friend makes our probability of being happy go down by 7%. Geographic distance is a proxy for amount of interaction. When a friend who lives 1 mile away is happy, it increases our probability of being happy by 25%. A happy sibling who lives less than a mile away increases our probability for happiness by 14%. Happy next door neighbors also increase our probability of happiness.
In a survey of 800 college alumni conducted by Perkins, students who had a preference for close friends and a positive marriage were happier than those who showed a preference for high income and success at work. Active pursuits with other people or going out and working with a charity make us happier than working long hours so we can earn more money to buy more stuff. Research by Sampson and Laub showed that happy people in positive relationships were much less likely to become criminals.
Relationships are connected to some of our strongest emotions. When the relationships are positive we feel happiness, elation, contentment and calm. When relationships are negative or non-existent we feel anxiety, depression, grief, jealousy, and loneliness. Close relationships with our friends and family help us build our self worth and self-image. They provide support in times that we struggle, unconditional love, and a reason for doing many of the things we do which helps give our lives meaning. They also provide us with a sense of identity and belonging. Knowing we are part of something bigger in life helps us be happier.
Remember the last time you had a peak experience. A time when you laughed and laughed or got really excited or felt like everything was right with the world. More than likely those times all involved other people and positive relationships with those people. People and relationships are the source of our greatest joys as well as our most gut wrenching traumas.