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Staying connected

You may already have a large circle of friends, acquaintances, and coworkers; you may be married, have children, and have a large family.

Whatever the composition of your social network, it’s easy to find that life is busy and you aren’t really connecting with the people you care about. High-quality, close connections are the ones that make us truly happy, and those connections need to be cultivated

Tips for building higher-quality connections

Build higher-quality connections with the people in your life with these suggestions:

  • Make time. Research has shown that happy couples spend at least five hours a week together talking.
  • Engage with people. Be present, attentive, and affirming.
  • Be supportive. Find out what the other person’s goals and challenges are. Be encouraging, and do what you can to help him succeed.
  • Share your admiration and gratitude. Remember what you first liked so much about a friend or partner? It’s easy to start taking that for granted. Make a point to give compliments.
  • Trust. Put your faith in others, and let it show that you believe they will not let you down.
  • Celebrate. Research has shown that a difference between good and poor relationships is how partners respond to each other’s good news. People who are close respond with enthusiasm and joy, rather than indifference, envy, or anxiety.
  • Play. Make time for fun, laughter, and goofing off, with nothing else on the agenda.

Positivity, by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph. D.
The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubormirsky


One of the easiest ways to strengthen connections with others—and boost our own happiness—is to express gratitude.

Gratitude neutralizes many negative emotions—envy, anxiety, hostility, worry, anger—and taps into many positive emotions, such as wonder, appreciation, contentment, savoring, love, joy. And researchers have found that the positive effects from expressing gratitude can last for months. In one study, people who had completed gratitude exercises were happier and less depressed six months later.

Psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky suggests the following exercises in her book The How of Happiness:

  • Keep a gratitude journal
  • Reflect on what you are grateful for in a contemplative practice, such as meditation or prayer
  • Express gratitude to another person
  • Write a gratitude letter (you may or may not choose to send it)

Psychologist Martin Seligman recommends a gratitude visit in his book Authentic Happiness. The basic steps are:

  • Choose a person from your life who has made a difference to you and to whom you have never fully expressed your thanks
  • Write a one-page testimonial and laminate it
  • Make arrangements to see the person face-to-face; do not tell the person about the purpose of the visit; you can simply say “I want to see you”
  • When you are together, read your testimonial aloud to the other person
  • Give the other person time to react, and reminisce together about the events you shared

The How of Happiness, by Sonja Lyubormirsky
Authentic Happiness, by Martin E. P. Seligman, Ph. D.
Time - "The New Science of Happiness"

Connecting and religion

What is it about practicing a religion that seems to make people happy?

Researchers point to three factors in happiness that people may be finding in their religious practices:

  • A strong social network and close relationships
  • A sense of meaning and purpose in life
  • Opportunities to experience positive emotions

People who were raised with religious beliefs and a church community are happier as adults—even if they have since left their religious tradition. A religious community may help provide stability and community to children as they grow up.

Positive effects of religion depend on the beliefs
For instance, religions that teach that only their faith is the right one and that other people must be condemned tend to produce lower life satisfaction—and, of course, human history is full of examples of religiously motivated persecution, violence, and war. People who believe in a loving and inclusive God are happier than those who believe in a punitive or unresponsive God.

Cultural context of the research findings
There is also a cultural context to the research findings. In the United States, research has shown that religious people are happier. The consistent difference in happiness among religious Americans is not replicated in other free societies. For example, Danes and Swedes consistently rate themselves happier than Americans, and they are also among the most secular democracies.

A study of 18 democracies found that the more secular countries had lower rates of violent crime, suicide, teen pregnancy, and abortion than the United States. These findings are leading researchers to focus on the important role of social support and connection (which is highly valued and implemented in Danish and Swedish policy). It may be that in the United States, religious communities are a significant source of social connection; other countries may develop social support in other ways.

Researchers have found the following positive effects among people who participate in religious practices (such as prayer, worship services, reading the Bible or other sacred texts):

  • Lower levels of stress
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Faster recovery from surgery
  • Longer life
  • Stronger immune systems
  • Less alcohol and drug abuse
  • Fewer divorces and happier marriages
  • Fewer episodes of depression
  • More forgiving
  • Make more money

Whether you consider yourself religious or not, experiencing positive emotions, having a strong connection to a community, and feeling a sense of meaning and purpose in your life are all linked to greater happiness. Participating in a religious community is one way to increase these factors in your life.

Happiness, by Ed Diener and Robert Biswas-Diener
Psychology Today - Spirituality

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