Part 2: Relating – Connect with people

People with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support and increase our feelings of self worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action to strengthen our relationships and build connections is essential for happiness.

Relationships matter

Our connections with other people are at the heart of happiness - theirs and ours. Whether these connections are with our partners, families, friends, work colleagues, neighbours or people in our broader communities, they all contribute to our happiness.

Scholars and scientists agree about the central importance of relationships for our wellbeing and our happiness. Many studies have shown that both the quality and quantity of social connections have an impact on our health and longevity as well as psychological wellbeing. Not having close personal ties poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity. Having a network of social connections or high levels of social support appears to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and reduce mental decline as we get older.

Close, secure and supportive relationships are the most important for well-being, whether these are with our husband, wife, partner, relatives or friends. Research shows that it's the quality of our relationships that matters most. This is influenced by:

  • Experiencing positive emotions together - e.g. enjoyment, fun
  • Being able to talk openly and feel understood
  • Giving and receiving of support
  • Shared activities and experiences.

Just as relationships are a two-way thing, it seems the connection between happiness and relationships is too. Not only do relationships help to make us happier, but also happy people tend to have more and better quality relationships. So working on our relationships is good for happiness and working on our happiness is good for our relationships. That's a win all round!

Relationships are human nature

By nature we are social creatures and it makes sense that relationships are central to our happiness - the survival and evolution of the human race has depended on it!

Indeed some eminent psychologists and biologists argue strongly that, contrary to the well-known 'selfish-gene' theory (i.e. that we are concerned only with the survival of our own genes), it is the survival of the group that is likely to be most successful in evolutionary terms - even if the genes of its members are unrelated.

It does seem that we are wired for relationships - think of emotions and behaviours such as love, compassion, kindness, gratitude, generosity, smiling and laughing. Or how reluctant we usually are to break bonds with people and how painful it is when we do. Our need to feel connected to other people - to love and be loved, and to care and be cared for - is a fundamental human need. Some experts argue that the capacity to be loved, as well as to love, is the most important human strength.

Happiness is contagious across social networks

As well as our close relationships, we all have wider connections with people across the different circles of our lives - at work, in our communities or through our social activities. Although these relationships are less deep, these are also important for happiness and wellbeing.

Having diverse social connections predicts how long we live and even impacts how resistant we are to catching colds! Our broader social networks provide a sense of belonging and influence how safe and secure we feel. Building connections in our local community contributes to our own happiness and that of those around us, enabling our communities to flourish.

Remarkable new research shows that happiness is contagious across social networks. Our happiness depends not only on the happiness of those in our direct social network, but on the happiness of the people they know too. In other words, happiness ripples out through groups of people, like a pebble thrown into a pond.

We can help to build happier communities by doing what we can to boost our own happiness and also being conscious of the impact our behaviour on others. Even seemingly small, incidental interactions, such as a friendly smile or act of kindness can make a difference - to ourselves, the people we interact with and the people they affect too.