Nicola Maxwell
Posted by Nicola Maxwell

The strongest finding to emerge from research is that human beings are social creatures who thrive on close relationships and community.

Happier people have better relationships, be it with family, friends, colleagues or through faith and interest communities they belong to.

Even independent, self-reliant people need close, strong relationships to thrive. And you don’t have to be a social butterfly or extrovert to enjoy the benefits of social connection. The fact that introverts may not connect as broadly as extroverts is not an issue. You just need a few good relationships to feel the positive impact of connectedness.

No matter who you are, close relationships are a source of help in difficult times, a place to celebrate the good times, to feel valued, cared for and secure enough to show ourselves to be vulnerable, to learn and develop.

Researchers also find that people with strong social connections have fewer stress-related health problems, lower risk of mental illness, and faster recovery from trauma or illness. That’s a lot of benefits just from hanging out with people we like.

In addition, the positive effects of connecting with others are lasting. Unlike our behaviours around money and achievement, we want to stay with good relationships and seem to appreciate them in the long term, as opposed to wanting to replace them with something newer, bigger or better.

This is perhaps also why Lottery winners on the whole are often unhappier as a result of winning vast amounts of money. It would seem that new-found wealth tends to break or stress existing social bonds and relationships, leaving people more isolated and disconnected from the people and community they have relied on in the past.

So, with all the ways to communicate and connect available to us today – mobiles, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn etc – surely we should be more and more connected and build stronger networks? Not necessarily.

Research shows that the constant messaging and updates through mobile technology and social media traps us in a loop of instant gratification that is addictive rather than beneficial to our sense of wellbeing and happiness. It’s good to keep in touch, certainly, but not as good if we are keeping in touch with hundreds of people and groups, none of whom we know personally.

It is close relationships that make the biggest difference to our happiness. When we use social media to communicate with the people we know well and love best, then yes, research confirms it can increase our levels of happiness.

In other words, there’s no point in having 500 friends on facebook if you only know 50 of them in person. But it is great to use technology in any way you can to communicate with those you know. It’s better still to make the time to see them face-to-face.

Now you know that spending time with the people you enjoy and care about significantly improves your happiness and also your health.

Here’s a quick exercise for you:

  1. Make a list of the people you know well and enjoy spending time with
  2. Write next to each name when you last saw them
  3. Write down who you would most like to see in the next month and what you might like to do together
  4. Then get in touch and arrange it right now
  5. Add to the list, people you think you would like to get to know better
  6. Pick one person on this list to contact and meet with in the next 4 weeks
  7. Every month for the next 12 months, go back to your list and review it, making sure you make time for your relationships and ultimately, your happiness.

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