Invest in your relationships for a fuller life

Relationships open our lives to richer emotions. Science tells us that love — in a variety of forms — can help us live longer, stronger and more fully.

Humans are social creatures. Sure, some of us like a little solitude now and then, but even introverts need to feel connected, cared for and understood. Our DNA compels us to seek relationships that satisfy those needs.

From the most basic viewpoint, the biological need for connection may stem from the survival instinct; propagation and protection of the human species depend on the bonds of our relationships. But love and connection provide much deeper benefits than a simple response to the instinct to survive. When we experience meaningful connections with other people, life is good. Positive relationships contribute to better physical and mental health, longevity, and, yes, happiness. Without positive relationships — whether at home, within our social circles, or at work — our happiness and health suffer.

Although your closest relationships — those with your mate, children, and inner circle of friends — are most essential to your well-being and life satisfaction, feeling connected at work or in your community also contributes to happiness. You may not define your work or social connections as love, but when nurtured, they can stimulate a physical and emotional response that mirrors the benefits of close personal relationships. So when Barbara Fredrickson, Ph.D., author of “Love 2.0”, and other experts refer to the benefits of love, it’s important to remember that, from a scientific standpoint, the word doesn’t necessarily equate to romantic feelings. Rather, it is a commitment to investing in others’ well-being — for your sake as well as theirs — and provides a sense of validation that comes from knowing that someone else in the world “gets” you.


Happy Act: Let Co-Workers Know You Appreciate Them

Only 10 percent of people say thank you to their co-workers on a daily basis. Demonstrate
your appreciation for your teammates’ efforts by saying thank you in person and via e-mail
(and, if appropriate, copy their bosses).


Happy Act: Reconnect

Has it been awhile since you last talked to an old friend or work mentor? Call your friend on the phone or arrange to meet for tea or coffee this week.


Four Ways to Develop Positive Relationships

1. Make your marriage a priority. Scheduling time for just the two of you — away from the children and without allowing work to chime in — can show your mate that he or she is important to you. Don’t forget to share good news rather than slipping into the habit of talking about chores and complaints. Sharing what’s right with the world and each other makes your time together more enjoyable.

2. Offer and ask for help. Remember that relationships are more important than whatever’s keeping you busy. When you see a friend or co-worker struggling, ask how you can help. Author Shawn Achor found that people who provided social support at work were 10 times more likely to be engaged in their work and 40 percent more likely to get a promotion than their co-workers who kept to themselves. Allowing others to help you not only lightens your load, but also strengthens the bonds between friends.

3. Have fun with others. Sharing positive experiences nurtures relationships in a number of ways. One study, for example, noted, “Partners who are motivated to engage in fun and exciting activities together, such as outdoor sports and travel, also tend to have high levels of marital satisfaction.” And if you’ve spent any time laughing with your co-workers, you know that laughter not only releases tension and lightens the mood; it’s often part of great memories.

4. Spend time with those who matter most. The connection between love, happiness and relationships isn’t a one-way street; it’s actually quite the opposite. When we feel loved and are happy, our relationships tend to be more fulfilling, and our happiness becomes contagious. So take time out for the people who matter most to you. Deepen your existing relationships and be open to forming new connections — it’s the best decision you’ll ever make.

Excerpted from Live Happy: Ten Practices for Choosing Joy by Deborah K. Heisz and the editors of Live Happy magazine.