Happy people are exceptionally good at their friendships, families, and intimate relationships. The happier a person is, the more likely he or she is to have a large circle of friends or companions, a romantic partner, and ample social support. The happier the person, the more likely she is to be married and to have a fulfilling and long-lasting marriage. The happier the person, the more likely she is to be satisfied with her family life and social activities, to consider her partner her “great love,” and to receive emotional and tangible support from friends, supervisors, and coworkers.
The relationship between social relationships and happiness is bi-directional. This means that romantic partners and friends make people happy, but it also means that happy people are more likely to acquire lovers and friends. If you begin today to improve and cultivate your relationships, you will reap the gift of positive emotions. In turn, the enhanced feelings of happiness will help you attract more and higher-quality relationships, which will make you even happier, and so on, in a continuous positive feedback loop. In other words, by applying this happiness-increasing strategy, you will embark on what psychologists call an upward spiral.
One of the most important functions of a social bond is the provision of social support in times of stress, distress, and trauma. Social support can be tangible (e.g., driving us to the hospital), emotional (e.g., listening, reassuring, and helping us generate solutions or alternate perspectives on problems), and informational (e.g., providing financial advice). Indeed, people with strong social support are healthier and live longer. An intriguing analysis of three communities of very long-living people revealed that they all had five things in common. At the top of the list were “Put family first” and “Keep socially engaged.”
From the time of their conception to the moment of their death, human beings are embedded in relationships with others. It is within interpersonal relationships that most of us experience for the first time the emotion of love-the most wildly happiness-inducing emotion there is-and find meaning and purpose in our lives. Of course, as everybody knows, love has its ups and downs: nonetheless, most identify it as one of the chief things that makes them happy.
Because at least 90 percent of adults eventually marry, most recommendations refer to strengthening intimate (or “romantic”) relationships, such as marriages. However, you’ll recognize that many of the suggestions apply to other kinds of close relationships, such as with close friends and family matters.
So, what are the secrets of the successful marriage? The first is that the partners talk…a lot. The successful couples spend five hours more per week being together and talking. There are several other ways to reserve time together. First, make every effort to schedule several hours together once a week, and make it a dedicated ritual. Second, create a media-free zone in your home and reserve it for conversations only.
Express admiration, appreciation, and affection.
One of the key conclusions of two decades of research on marriages is that happy relationships are characterized by a ratio of positive to negative affect of five to one. This means that for every negative statement or behavior-nagging, lecturing- there are five positive ones. Second, communicate your admiration and gratitude directly. Giving genuine praise (e.g., “I’m so proud of what you did”) not only makes your significant other happy by inspires her to strive for greater heights. Third, to increase respect, value, and admiration for your partner, there are some exercises that can be accomplished on your own on a weekly basis. Here’s a sample four-week plan:
Social psychologists have shown that what distinguishes good and poor relationships is not how the partners respond to each other’s disappointments and reversals but how they respond to good news. Researchers find that people who are only “silently supportive,” as well as those who seem uninterested or who point out the downsides of the good news, have relationships that are less close, less intimate, and less trusting.
Happy couples don’t necessarily fight any less loudly: they just fight differently. One of the secrets of the happiest couples has been found to be something very powerful actually simple. It involves doing a little thing in the middle of an argument that deescalates tension and negativity, an attempt at patching up. One of the most common such behaviors is friendly (as opposed to hostile) humor (e.g., screwing up your face like a two-year old). Another is expressing affection or saying something directly (e.g., “I see your point”).
In truth, a deep sense of shared rituals, dreams, and goals underlies thriving relationships. You grow together, explore new directions and take risks together, challenge your assumptions together, and take responsibility together. The goal should be to honor and respect each other and each other’s life dreams and interests, even if you don’t share them all.
What if you don’t have or don’t want a romantic partner?
Although in almost every study, married people have been found to be happier than their divorced, separated, widowed, or single peers, this doesn’t mean that happiness is reserved only for them. Other partnerships matter too. Take note, then, that a strategy to invest in relationships can bring happiness when directed not only at lovers and spouses but at almost any significant relationship in your life.
Friendships don’t just happen; they are made. One prominent psychologist suggests that the magic number is to have three friends or companions you can really count on. Here are some suggestions for how to get your friendships number up to three and to make them thrive.
Make time (again)
Show interest in other people and offer them encouragement. Once a friendship forms, create rituals that allow you to get together and be in touch on a regular basis. In this way, friends become as much a priority as all the other areas of your life.
Self-disclosure, revealing intimate thoughts and feelings, is difficult for some individuals, but it’s critical to friendships.
Be helpful and supportive when your friend needs it, and affirm their successes. Try to bask in your friends’ triumphs, instead of feeling envy. Other universal rules of friendship include standing up for your friends when they’re not there, keeping secrets, not putting down their other friends, and returning favors.
Frequent hugging is enthusiastically endorsed by popular magazines and Web sites as a means to increase happiness, health, and connectedness to others. The author of this study reported that some of the students-the guys, in particular-were a bit of uncomfortable and embarrassed at first but ended up generating creative ways to hug (such as embracing teammates after successes on the field). Try it. You may find that a hug can relieve stress, make you feel closer to someone, and even diminish pain.