What is the one characteristic of very happy people that researchers have found is most closely related to life satisfaction? No, it is not money, or even health. What scientists have discovered is that happy people are exceptionally good at relationships. Social connections to family, friends, partners, neighbors and colleagues have been found to be a greater contributor to our emotional and psychological well-being than any other factor studied. Apparently, happiness is largely about being connected. Human beings have always been interdependent, relying on one another initially for physical survival, and now primarily for emotional well-being. The number and strength of our social connections correlates so closely with happiness that the two can barely be separated.
People with strong connections to family and friends are not only happier, they tend to be healthier and live longer. A good social network has been shown to increase our immunity, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we age.
Why do people matter so much? Because close relationships provide love and increase our feelings of worth. Our commitment to family gives us a sense of meaning, and our friends and family offer social support during times of stress or trauma. Participation in any social network also provides a sense of belonging, which is an essential human need.
The research shows that it is the quality of our relationships that is most important, which means that having 500 friends on Facebook is not as effective as having a positive relationship with a significant other and close relationships with friends and family. Quality is measured by sharing experiences, having fun together, good communication, and mutual support.
There are some very simple steps you can take to improve relationships. Make time for the people who are important to you. Do fun things with friends and family. Make sure that those you care about feel good in your presence. Smile (another happiness strategy). Show interest, listen closely, encourage, compliment, and show appreciation. Celebrate successes and accomplishments of partners, family and friends. Be kind, thoughtful, and affectionate. These simple behaviors will strengthen existing relationships and can pave the way for new relationships to develop.
Finally it is clear from the research that the connection between happiness and relationships is a two-way street. Not only do happier people tend to have more and stronger relationships, but improved relationships tend to increase happiness. So, if you work on improving your relationships, you will become happier, and the increase in happiness will attract more and better relationships, making you even happier. That creates a positive feedback loop that is a win-win!
Intrigued? Want more information on how you can increase your happiness? Check out my happiness group, starting March 2, 2017.