The How of Happiness – Nurturing Relationships

The fifth happiness boosting activity from “The How of Happiness” by Sonja Lyubomirsky is:

Nurturing Social Relationships

When I was talking about the “HOW” of Social Support I said that it was different than nurturing relationships.  It is, but I fist want to go over in what ways they are similar.

I talked about the three types of support: tangible, emotional, and informational.  What studies have found is that people who have a good base of support tend to be happier, healthier and live longer.

There are three groups in particular that scientists look at: the Sardinians of Italy, the Okinawans of Japan, and the Seventh Day Adventists of Loma Linda California.  These three groups are exeptionally healthy and long lived and they each have 5 things in common that helps them do that.  Two of those things are “putting family first” and “keeping socially engaged”.

Other reasons why relationships build happiness:

  • Many studies over the years have found a basic human need to “belong” and strongly resist the breaking up of social bonds.  (my only warning about this is beware who you want to “belong” with – some groups will only seek to use you and will not truly appreciate you).  Find true good friends, who provide all the support listed above, and you’re good.
  • Love = Happy – for anyone who had truly “fallen” in love you know it’s like pure euphoria.  Nothing can affect you, you feel less pain, all is good in the world.  I’m not saying we should all rush out and get ourselves hopelessly in love.  But you can see how this positive emotion does relate to happiness and being around others.

So how is the best way to nurture relationships, whether friends, family, or intimate?  Lets take a look:

  • Express admiration, appreication, and affection – do it often (see below) and directly (no email!) for best effect.
  • Know the Losada Line – for all of the above expressions of positive emotions, what is really key is knowing the right ratio of positive to negative feedback.  To keep relationships going strong (whether at work, home, marriage, etc) you need to keep a 3:1 positive to negative comment ratio.  Ideally it should be 6:1.  So bosses out there, if you want to build solid working relationships and get more out of your people, compliment them 6x as much as you criticize them.
  • write a list of things you like about this person – what initially “attracted” you to them
  • write a list of things you appreciate about this person – then tell them.
  • write about a good time you have had with this person: they supported you, a difficult time you got through together.  Let them know again how much you appreciated that.
  • write down something that angered or disappointed you about this person then write down two or three charitable explanations for why they might have done that or been that way and forgive them (directly or indirectly it doesn’t matter)
  • Write down what beliefs or goals you share that you want to nurture and work on together.
  • Celebrate your friends successes – more than just a pat on the back or a “well done” (though that is a good start), really and truly celebrate with them, make it an occasion – this will boost your happiness and theirs.
  • When they say something, there are four ways you can respond.  The ideal way to respond is active and constructive – meaning it offers enthusiastic support as well as specific comments “that is wonderful news, I know you have been working hard to get this.  When will it go on display?”.  NONE of the other three ways of responding nurture the relationship and will actually HARM it, they are: passive “that’s nice”, negative “Really?  You actually finished something”, or ignoring “what?  there was something funny on TV”.
  • Manage Conflict – UNHAPPY relationships tend to follow the same style of handling conflict: Harsh start in disagreement, Criticism, Contempt, Defensiveness, and Stonewalling.  HAPPY relationships do not necessarily fight any less, but they fight differently: eye-contact, listening, acknowledgment.  Also use friendly humor (not hurtful or degrading) to deescalate tension, and expressing affection goes along way.
  • Share rituals, dreams, and goals (your inner life) with someone you trust and make that deeper connection.
  • Make time – simply being there with someone can be huge sometimes.
  • Be supportive and always loyal to those who are closest to you.
  • Hug – physical contact is a great thing to nurture relationships.
  • Finally COMMUNICATE – this is HUGE.  Talk, share, reveal thoughts and feelings.  None of us are mind readers and so often we get upset over something we expected someone to do (that we never told them we wanted them to do).  The other side of this is LISTEN when they are talking, hear and (as we learned above) acknowledge actively and constructively.

OK, so there’s lots here, but that’s because this is such a big area for building happiness for so many people.

Next time: Developing Strategies for Coping

Until then, keep laughing – which is almost always better when done with others.

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