Relationships with our family, friends, or significant others are all an integral part of our lives. Healthy connections can lead to happiness and fulfillment and toxic ones can bring us down and impact our social and work lives. Humans are inherently social and rely heavily on others to help them achieve and thrive. We’ve all encountered those that instead of building us up, find ways to break us down. That’s why it’s so important to surround ourselves with good, positive people and relationships.
When we think of our most meaningful relationships, often we think of our closest friends, family, or significant others. Friendships in particular play a huge role in our lives and our well-being as adults. As friendships evolve and become closer, we share more and more and open up in more meaningful ways. In fact, positive friendships have been shown to increase our happiness. When friends share positive events with one another, a positive and constructive response has been shown to link directly to happiness (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). When we experience a triumph or accomplishment, it is in our nature to want to share that success with someone. Think about what reaction you would want from a friend or loved one when you tell them that you got a promotion, achieved a milestone in your fitness goals, or just had a really good day. A growing amount of research has shown that when we get an enthusiastic and positive response back from those we share with, we receive positive emotions and associate happiness with those relationships (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). The most impactful response is both active and constructive – for instance, someone saying “I am so proud of you, when does your new job start?” (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). However, on the flip side, people can also respond passively or even destructively, which can damage the relationship and your positive feelings about your accomplishment (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). A more passive response would be saying something like “Cool!” and an actively destructive comment would be finding something wrong with the positive event like saying “Oh, your new commute is going to be terrible and you’ll waste so much money on gas” (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). This essence of positivity and optimism is essential in living a happy life.
Ultimately, only the active and positive reactions are shown to improve the happiness of the relationship. There’s an added bonus too. Responding positively makes both people in the relationship happier and more satisfied with their relationship (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). So next time your friend brings you good news, be enthusiastic! Your happiness for them will reinforce their perceived value and significance of the event for them, make your relationship stronger, and also make you happier.
Sometimes, though, friendships can be hard to maintain. We don’t always have time to connect as frequently as we want to but it is so important to start scheduling that into your life. You can participate in leisure activities together, grab a drink to reminisce about old times, and talk about challenging ideas or circumstances that you’re facing. All of these activities help maintain the friendship. Studies have shown that there are four really important traits to maintaining good relationships and friendships: positivity, supportiveness, openness, and interaction (Demir, Tyra, & Ozen-Clplak, 2019). If you’re not already, find that excuse to reach out to your friend, have a meaningful conversation with deeper and more personal thoughts, address misunderstandings or things that are bothering you, or celebrate special occasions.
Without these interactions,the other traits like positivity, supportiveness, and openness don’t get to come into play. Make sure you are not only building satisfying relationships for yourself, but also are reaching out to allow others to belong as well. Social relationships have been shown to impact people’s coping abilities, health, and opportunities for guidance and help (Teike & Sneed, 2018). Sometimes, it takes extra effort on our part to sustain a relationship. It can be tough when you view a relationship as being absent personal benefit at the moment. However, social exchange theory indicates that when people value putting other’s needs above their own, they are more likely to build and restore relationships that don’t have immediate personal gain (Teike & Sneed, 2018). So, despite not seeing the positives of a relationship – this isn’t to say that you should continue to build a connection with someone that is negative or bringing you down – the value of an invitation can be hugely impactful to others and their happiness (Teike & Sneed, 2018). By inviting people to connect, participate, or join in a group activity, people reported being more self-aware and were more likely to be open and non-judgmental to new people and experiences (Teike & Sneed, 2018).
We don’t want to solely derive our happiness from relationships though. We want to try to build it within ourselves so that we can then share and enhance our happiness with others. An easy start to this is to begin to exercise. A paper reviewing the impacts of exercise on happiness found that even as little as 10 minutes of physical activity a week could lead to small increases in happiness (Zhang & Chen, 2018). Imagine the impact of exercising for 30 minutes a day! Hint: it makes a big impact. Check out our blog on Fitness and Meditation to see how they both impact your happiness and well-being. The impact of exercise on happiness had no boundaries too. It impacted all areas of the population and consisted of people from various countries and areas (Zhang & Chen, 2018). Going hand-in-hand with exercise is the ability to police yourself and maintain self-control. A recent study found that self-control and adhering to pre-determined goals for yourself positively predicted your emotional well-being and happiness (Wiese, et al., 2018). While working out and exercising self-control when appropriate may seem like simple things, they can make a big impact.
So here are the takeaways: build your relationships and build up those you have relationships with, find happiness in yourself with exercise and self-control, reach out to others to help them build themselves, and find ways to connect meaningfully with your friends – plan it out, set a schedule, invite them to join, whatever it takes. Relationships are integral to our happiness and well-being. Don’t neglect them or yourself!