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Connecting Our Way to Greater Happiness and Health

What do social connections have to do with happiness? Everything, according to an amazing Harvard study that has followed the same people for over 80 years (one of the longest studies ever done!).

The only thing that really matters in life is your relationships to other people.”

George Vaillant (a former director of the study for 32 years)

Robert Waldinger, the current director, gives a more in-depth explanation of the study and its findings in this 12-minute Ted talk.

To briefly summarize, researchers tracked 724 people from their teenage years through old age, gathering information every 2 years about their health, work, and relationships through both subjective (interviews at home) and objective measures (bloodwork and MRIs).

What they found from this extensive research is that quality relationships with family, friends and partners:

  • Increase happiness, health (mental and physical) + longevity – Close social relationships are an even better indicator for these positive outcomes than genetics, social class or IQ!
  • Predict future longevity & well-being – Those who were the most content with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest and happiest at age 80!
  • Improve memory – The results clearly show the positive impact of secure attachments on brain function.

Other studies also support the importance of relationships on our well-being. Researchers who examined very happy people found what they all had in common was deep, satisfying social connections.

Who wouldn’t want to connect with someone who looks this fun and happy?

Another research-based example is the PERMA model of well-being, which stems from positive psychology. PERMA is an acronym for 5 of the main elements that contribute to our well-being. The R is for (you guessed it!) Relationships 😉 The other letters stand for Positive emotion, Engagement, Meaning, and Achievement. (I’m sure I’ll write a PERMA post one of these days soon, cause it’s awesome 😄) The gist is we can enhance our well-being by tending to any of these areas – in this case, Relationships.

What’s a pirate’s favorite letter of PERMA?

Arrrrrrrrr (sorry, I couldn’t help myself!!!) All aboard the relation-ship! (help! 💀 i can’t stop!! 😨)

Turning our attention toward relationships, how can we go about strengthening our connections? Most studies have focused on the importance of being there for people, or sharing with our loved ones, when the going gets tough. While we all know this is true and helpful, I wanted to also illuminate how we might deepen our relationships by celebrating the positive events that happen in our lives (after all, you’re reading a blog about positivity called Spread Happy! 😉)

One tool for supporting relationship well-being is called Active Constructive Responding (ACR). Led by genuine curiosity and interest, it’s a way to respond when someone shares good news that enhances positive emotion in both the giver and receiver of the news. The general idea is to listen attentively, ask questions that help the person relive the experience, and wonder about what the person’s strengths are that resulted in the positive event happening. Here are some examples if you’re interested, as well as an explanation of 3 other types of responding that are less supportive. And if you’re game, give ACR a whirl the next time somebody shares positive news with you!

Relationships can be cultivated any time, and at any age – it’s never too late! Whether you’re looking for new social connections, or would like to deepen existing relationships, there are many ways to support relationship-building:

What are some other ideas you have? How do you foster the relationships in your life, and what might you do to strengthen those ties? I’d love to hear your thoughts. I look forward to connecting our way together to greater happiness and health!