What does it take for us to be happy? Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger researched the most important elements of happiness by following a group of white men for 75 years and concluded that good relationships keep people happy and healthy. Specifically, he concluded that close relationships, high quality connections, and stable, supportive marriages all contributed to greater levels of happiness. The researcher concluded that people who valued relationships with family, friends, and with community fared the best. Many of his conclusions align with my clinical experience and observations over 25 years of private practice work. If this is true, then why are our relationships more disconnected and more superficial which result in more unhappiness?
Let’s face it, relationships take time, effort and energy and some people would rather spend their time entertaining themselves or being entertained. Healthy relationships require commitment and responsibilities that some prefer to ignore or reject. Sometimes relationships even trigger conflict which requires communication, may produce uncomfortable feelings, and necessitate forgiveness. I’ve heard people say, “relationships are too much work” or “being alone limits my exposure to hurt and disappointment.” These statements have some validity, but miss the point which is that without healthy relationships we have less happiness, joy, and a sense of belonging. As the study concludes, happiness comes from deep, personal, intimate, and meaningful relationships. So how do we develop these relationships?
First, we need to take a look at ourselves and determine if we have unresolved anger, hurt, resentment, fear or guilt that may be holding us back from developing or nurturing relationships. If we do have negative emotions getting in the way, it is our job to confront the feelings and let them go. Easier said than done but worth the time and effort. Another important part of this process of connection is creating opportunities to be around people through activities, groups, clubs, church, co-workers, and/or neighbors. For some the most difficult part of connection is initiating contact and generating conversation. Relationships grow over time, but grow quicker when you share more about yourself and express personal information at time-appropriate moments. You’ll be amazed how others open up with you when you open up with them. Set a goal for 2016 to meet a new person and deepen another relationship over the next month.