Take a close look at those relationships that take up a significant amount of our lives.
In 1988 an American musician named Bobby McFerrin released a song entitled, Don’t Worry, Be Happy. Recently Harvard University released a summary of the findings of a study on what makes people happy. The study took place over 80 years by tracking individuals for those 80 years and determining the factors that contributed to their being happy with life. Maybe not so surprising, is that their findings echoed Mr. Ferrin’s song title.
In gathering the health records and responses to detailed questions from the 724 participants of the study (Interestingly, one of the original participants was a Harvard student named John F. Kennedy). They found that little of what society seems to value contributes significantly to happiness. Neither career achievement, nor monetary success, nor rigid adherence to ab exercise routine, and no strict adherence to a healthy diet ranked as high as having positive relationships in making us happier, healthier, and living longer.
The study found that our relationships effect us physically and that we are best off when our relationships are healthy and balanced. It is probably true that there are some of us who are born with the tendency to be happier and more positive that others, but each of us can increase our happiness even if we tend to see all of our “glasses” half empty.
I think that each of us can easily see ways in which our outlooks and relationships effects us physically. Do we lose sleep when worrying about whom we’ve had a falling out with? Do we feel better after a good conversation with a friend that shows understanding? Like all important areas of life, relationships need care and treatment, or they will suffer neglect and we will suffer. To ensure that we are in good relationships and nurturing them requires that we take a close look at those relationships that take up significant amount of our lives and how we are tending those relationships.
I found the following application of the findings of the Harvard study on CNBC An 85-year Harvard study found the No. 1 thing that makes us happy in life: It helps us ‘live longer’. This includes a great tool for assessing our own relationships and seeing how we can increase our “social fitness”.
How to take stock of your relationships
Humans are social creatures. Each of us as individuals cannot provide everything we need for ourselves. We need others to interact with and to help us. In our relational lives, there are seven keystones of support:
- Safety and security: Who would you call if you woke up scared in the middle of the night? Who would you turn to in a moment of crisis?
- Learning and growth: Who encourages you to try new things, to take chances, to pursue your life’s goals?
- Emotional closeness and confiding: Who knows everything (or most things) about you? Who can you call on when you’re feeling low and be honest with about how you’re feeling?
- Identity affirmation and shared experience: Is there someone in your life who has shared many experiences with you and who helps you strengthen your sense of who you are?
- Romantic intimacy: Do you feel satisfied with the amount of romantic intimacy in your life?
- Help (both informational and practical): Who do you turn to if you need some expertise or help solving a practical problem (e.g., planting a tree, fixing your WiFi connection).
- Fun and relaxation: Who makes you laugh? Who do you call to see a movie or go on a road trip with who makes you feel connected and at ease?
Below you’ll find a table arranged around the seven keystones. The first column is for the relationships you think have the greatest impact on you.
Place a plus (+) symbol in the appropriate columns if a relationship seems to add to that type of support in your life, and a minus (-) symbol if a relationship lacks that type of support.
Remember, it’s okay if not all — or even most — relationships offer you all these types of support.
Think of this exercise like an X-ray — a tool that helps you see below the surface of your social universe. Not all of these types of support will feel important to you, but consider which of them do, and ask yourself if you’re getting enough support in those areas.
Looking at the gaps on the chart, you might realize that you have plenty of people you have fun with, but no one to confide in. Or maybe you only have one person you go to for help, or that a person you take for granted actually makes you feel safe and secure.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to the people in your life. Whether it’s a thoughtful question or a moment of devoted attention, it’s never too late to deepen the connections that matter to you.
Over nearly 80 years, Harvard study has been showing how to live a healthy and happy life – Harvard Gazette
(PDF) Happiness Studies (researchgate.net)
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