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Psychologists Martin Seligman and Christopher Peterman have cataloge the character strengths that contribut to a happy life and are protective in times of trouble.

Seligman says, “As a professor, I don’t like this, but the cerebral virtues—curiosity, love of learning—are less strongly tied to happiness than interpersonal virtues like kindness, gratitude, and capacity for love.”

Getting connected

People can improve their social skills and social networks. Even if your temperament is to be more introverted, you can take steps to increase your connections with others. Once you do, you’re likely to feel happier, which in turn makes it easier to make more friends, and then you’re experiencing the “upward spiral” of positive emotions and increased happiness. Whether you’ve moved to a new town, or have just gone through a major life transition, or are simply quiet and shy, these suggestions can help you increase your circle of friends:

Connect every day.
 Find a way to connect with someone else every day. Make it a priority to have a relaxed phone conversation, take a short walk together, share a meal, or exchange letters or emails with someone you enjoy.

Act “as if.” Even if you’re not a very outgoing person, act as if you are when you are around other people. Researchers find that if you push yourself to be more outgoing when you are with other people, you’ll feel more positive emotions from the social interaction.

Cultivate compassion. People who cultivate loving concern and kindness for others enjoy their interactions with people more and feel more positive emotions. You can do this through a contemplative practice such as meditation or prayer.

Communicate. It seems obvious that friends communicate; but some people find self-disclosure difficult. Choose a few friends you trust; go slowly; be a good listener when friends share about themselves; and reciprocate with a similar level of self-disclosure.

Practical things you can do to increase your social network:

  • Work out; join a class through a local gym or community center; or start a lunchtime group walk at work
  • Walk your dog; people who have a dog and walk it have an easy way to interact with others, especially other dog owners
  • Go outside; walk the neighborhood, sit out front, or stop to greet people who go by as you do yard work
  • Do lunch; invite someone out for lunch or coffee
  • Volunteer; volunteering gives you an instant connection with other people who share an interest in the same cause
  • Take a class; if you’ve always wanted to start or finish a degree, one benefit is that you’re almost sure to find friends at school; or take a community college, extension, or parks and recreation course in a subject or hobby that interests you
  • Join a faith community; researchers believe that people who are religious are happier in part because they have a strong social connection in their faith community

Sources:
Positivity, by Barbara L. Fredrickson, Ph. D.
Mayo Clinic - Friendships
Time - "The New Science of Happiness"

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