Happiness is best found in the company of others
When researchers study the top 10% of happy people, the single most important factor that emerges is that these very happy people have good social relationships.
Renowned happiness researcher and co-author of the book Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth, Dr Robert Biswas-Diener tells an excellent anecdote to sum up the key message.
While living for a period with the Kalahari Bushmen to study what made them happy, he went on a hunt with the men.
After a long day in the blistering sun and heat of the African desert, the hunting party had nothing to show for their efforts. Yet when they turned to head back to camp they began to sing together—not a forlorn tune, but an upbeat one.
Intrigued, Robert quizzed one of the Bushmen: ‘You seem happy, even though we didn’t catch anything.’
The Bushman was somewhat puzzled by the question, but replied, ‘We did not catch anything, but we did not catch anything together.’
Designed for community
We are designed to operate in community. We are better together. We need each other to do our best.
H Reis and S Gable in C Keyes and J Haidt (editors), Flourishing put it this way: ‘The belief that one is cared for, loved, esteemed and valued has been recognised as one of the most (if not the most) influential determinants of wellbeing for people of all ages and cultures.’
Relationships are foundational to happiness. That is, of course, if our relationships are positive. And therein lies the problem—not all of them are. And when they’re bad, it can be very bad indeed.
Essentially, relationships magnify emotions.
This is why we can reach higher heights with others, but we can also sink to deeper depths. Thinking about our highest highs and lowest lows, we’ll probably find that others helped us get there.
Indeed, the people who make us most happy also have the ability to make us sad.
So how can we discover better relationships so we can immerse ourselves in an uplifting social environment?
The solution is simple, at least in theory. Let’s look at two strategies.
1. Make new friends, the old-school way
The first strategy that can help us immerse ourselves in an uplifting social environment is to make new positive friends.
It begins with the advice our mothers gave us on day one of school, which still rings true: ‘Show yourself friendly.’
Also, a great place to go is where people with a positive orientation gather, such as interest groups like the local fire brigade or Rotary club, church groups, and sporting clubs.
2. Strengthen your existing relationships
When relationships get hard—and they do—there is a tendency to think that if the other person would just change their attitudes and actions, things would be so much better. Perhaps they would—but good luck with that.
If we’re committed to strengthening our existing relationships, there are two things we can do to help.
We can love first. I know it sounds trite and cheesy, but love can overcome anything and everything. There are many stories that demonstrate this to be true.
Forgive. Forgive? You might be thinking, ‘Why should I be the one to love first and forgive?’ The short answer is because ultimately it is for you. It can lift you and empower you to live more.
Darren Morton is a Fellow of the Australian Society of Lifestyle Medicine. This post is adapted from his latest book Live More Happy—available at www.drdarrenmorton.com