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