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Connection & happiness

One of the clearest findings to emerge from research into happiness is that we are social creatures.

All of us need other people in order to be well and thrive. We feel better just being around other people. And we need close relationships in order to be happy

Social connections and happiness

Why are close, loving relationships so crucial to our well-being and happiness? Relationships create psychological space and safety so that we can explore and learn. When we feel safe and supported, we don’t have to narrow in on survival tasks like responding to danger or finding our next meal. We are able to explore our world, which builds resources for times of stress and adversity.

Characterisics of close relationships:

  • The ability to love and be loved
  • Mutual understanding
  • Caring
  • A source of direct help in times of trouble
  • Celebration of good times
  • Validation of self-worth
  • Security
  • A diversity of ideas and influences to help us grow and learn
  • Fun

Belonging to a group or community gives us a sense of identity. It helps us understand who we are and feel part of something larger than ourselves. Researchers also find that people with strong social connections have less stress-related health problems, lower risk of mental illness, and faster recovery from trauma or illness. Friends and family can also encourage and support us in healthy lifestyle habits, such as exercise and moderation.

Researchers have found that people are happier when they are with other people than when they are alone—and the “boost” is the same for introverts and extroverts. They also are finding that happy people are more pleasant, helpful, and sociable. So being around people makes us feel happier, and when we are happier we are more fun to be around, creating an “upward spiral” of happiness.

Happiness may be surprisingly contagious. Psychologist James H. Fowler studied the data of 5,000 people over 20 years and found that happiness benefits other people through three degrees of connection, and that the effects last for a year. He says: “We found a statistical relationship not just between your happiness and your friends' happiness, but between your happiness and your friends’ friends’ friends’ happiness.”

The positive effects from connecting with others are lasting. Scientists have observed what they call “hedonic adaption”: our tendency to quickly adapt to our changing circumstances. This is why people who win the lottery, for instance, usually find themselves at the same level of happiness they had before they won. Close relationships, however, may be an exception. In contrast to material goods, we are more likely to continue to want our close relationships, even after we attain them, and to continue to derive positive emotions from them.

Happiness, by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
Happiness Is Contagious
Positivity, by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph. D.
The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubormirsky

Common misconceptions

The most mature people are self-reliant.
The ideal of “rugged individualism” is a myth. Humans are social creatures; we need social networks to survive and thrive. Even independent, self-reliant people need to connect with others. The happiest people are those with strong relationships with family and friends.

Extroverts benefit from friendships more than introverts do.

Friends and family are important to everyone, whether they are quiet or outgoing. Researchers have found that introverts get just as much of a “boost” from being with other people as extroverts do. People who have a smaller number of close relationships can be just as happy as outgoing people with large numbers of acquaintances. The important thing is to cultivate a network of people you are close to—not how large that network is.

Some people are naturally more outgoing and popular.

Some people do have more outgoing temperaments, but introverts form just as many close connections as extroverts do and are just as capable of developing their social skills. Social skills are learned, and they can be learned and improved at any time in our lives.

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