Positive relationships with others make us happy. And as you will know only too well bad relationships make us unhappy. As indeed do good relationships going through a bad patch. So we need to get our relationships right if we want to be happy.
We tend to have different levels of relationships with the people in our lives. For example, we have an inner circle of family and friends to whom we are close. In business we have bosses, colleagues and customers. And we make one-on-one contact with casual acquaintances, neighbours, service providers and other officials.
It is not the number but the quality of your relationships that counts. The close long-standing ones can make you feel happier or indeed more miserable. So you need to put more work into them than into your other relationships. If they are well-managed they can be a rich source of gratification and joy that is good for your well-being.
Of course, it takes time and social skill to build a community of supportive others. But once established you can share thoughts and feelings, engage in common pursuits or strive for goals. There are few investments in life that can yield a higher rate of return.
Positive Relationships with others
Each of us have some potentially supportive people in our social networks. Unfortunately some of us do not take the trouble to build a good relationship with these people. However with some astute work you can still get these relationships to work in your favour. And repair any bridges that need to be mended.
Both parties find that a relationship that is well-managed is a warm, satisfying and trusting experience for them. (Ryff & Keyes, 1995). They share a concern for the welfare of others. They understand the need for a certain amount of give and take in their relations. They have empathy for each others feelings and concerns. They show affection for each other.
People who are not good with people have few close and trusting relationships with others. And are not willing to make compromises to sustain important ties with others. It is difficult for them to be warm, open, and concerned about others. And this lack of social skill makes it difficult for them to manage relationships.
Most Important Relationships
The very best relationships of all are those that you have with the people who you see almost every single day of your life (Goleman, 1966). And the more significant the relationship is the better it is for your health and sense of well-being. Because the unconditional love it provides you with is a psychologically safe and secure space. ( Ben-Shahar, 2007). And within this space you can pursue those things you find most meaningful and pleasurable.
Most of the research on relationships is on marriages. Which are one of those close kinds of relationship that can be crucial to your happiness. So we would do well to put time and effort into managing them. For as James Openheim the American poet and writer so eloquently put it: “The foolish man seeks happiness in the distance; the wise grows it under his feet.”
Five Successful Behaviours
Gottman & Levenson (1992) list five behaviours people in successful marriages use:
1. Before these couples say goodbye every morning, they find out one thing each is going to do that day.
2. At the end of each workday, these couples have a low stress reunion conversation about how the day went for them.
3. They engage in touching, grabbing, holding and kissing – all laced with tenderness and forgiveness.
4. They have one weekly date. Just the two of them in a relaxed atmosphere, updating their love.
5. Every day, they show genuine affection and appreciation at least once.
It is easy to see how this kind of daily attention and investment helps to breathe life and understanding into a relationship. It is also worth noting that the giving of this level of attention is as beneficial for the well-being of the giver as it is for the receiver. Yet another benefit is that learning to manage close relationships successfully helps us to develop our ability to interact with others in a positive caring way that we can then use to improve the other relationships in our lives.
Communicating Our Interest in another person
Use the five behaviours to show interest in a person. And your understanding of his or her concerns. For example, use low-stress reunion conversations to share how life is going for you. And learn how it is going for them. And communicate your empathy with words of understanding and forgiveness.
The idea of regularly updating our relationships in a relaxed atmosphere is also a useful strategy. For relaxation and empathy are two sure signs that you like the person you’re with maintains Beck (2001). Using the ideas above to indicate that we feel comfortable with the other person and that we understand them and feel understood in return puts a relationship on a positive footing. Investing time and thought into communicating this understanding is what managing relationships successfully is all about.
Casual relationships of the one-off or occasional variety can also be a source of joy. When we handle them well and get a positive response we feel good. And we can use them to practice and to upgrade our social skills.
For example, we can use these encounters to focus on the social needs of the other person. To discern their mood and their preferences. To experiment with ways of expressing our empathy for them. And to try to get them to respond positively to us.
Beck, M. (2001) Finding your own North Star. London: Piatkus.
Ben-Shahar, T. (2007) Happier: Learn the secrets of Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment. New York: McGraw-Hill.
Goleman, D. (1996) Emotional Intelligence: London: Bloomsbury publishing
Gottman, J and Levenson, R. (1992) By watching hundreds: Marital processes predictive of later dissolution: Behaviour, psychology and health. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63, 221-233.
Ryff CD & Keyes CL (1995) In J Pers Soc psychology “The Structure of Psychological Well-Being Revisited”
Seligman, M. (2003) Authentic Happiness: Using the New Positive Psychology to Realise Your Potential for Lasting Fulfillment. London; Nicholas Beasley Publishing