I’ve been reading a lot lately about the scientific research on the causes and correlates of human happiness, and there’s some fascinating findings from recent years.
Overall, the research about happiness is in its infancy. There’s a lot we don’t know, but there are also some very interesting discoveries. Here’s one to think about today:
The presence of “rich and satisfying social relationships” in one’s life is the only external factor that has been shown to differentiate people who describe themselves as “very happy” from those that are less happy. When studied across large groups, other external factors — such as class, wealth, or life events—were not shown to have an overall impact on happiness levels.
A note about this finding: I’ve noticed that when women hear this, they tend to interpret it as putting weight behind the idea that they should focus on family above work, but in fact rich and meaningful social relationships can come from many domains of life — family, friendship, professional colleagues and teams, or relationships formed through your community.
It’s also important to note that rich and satisfying relationships were not shown to alone be sufficient to create high levels of happiness (there are many other factors I’ll cover in subsequent posts), but having rich and satisfying relationships is a necessary component — people don’t reach high levels of happiness without them.
Got it?
In light of this, here’s a little homework / exploration / self-reflection to do with paper and pen this week:
1. Would you describe yourself as having rich and satisfying social relationships? On a scale of 1-10, 10 being “my life is full of the most rich and satisfying social relationships” and 1 being, “my life is totally devoid of rich and satisfying social relationships,” how would you evaluate your life right now?
2. If you scored under an 8, think about: what would an 8 score look like in your life?
What would need to be present? What would be different?
If you scored an 8 or 9, consider what a 10 would look like. What would need to be different?
And if you gave yourself a 10, imagine what an off the charts 12 would look like.
3. Look back: which relationships in your life have been deeply satisfying, and what precisely made them so? Was it the sense of shared interests or the fabulous fun times or the sense of embarking on a challenging project together? The answers about what makes relationships rich and satisfying vary among us. Remember to include professional, friendship, family, and community relationships in your reflections.
4. Is your investment of time and energy in your relationships (whether professional, communal, family or friend relationships) commensurate with their major impact on your well being? Are you over-investing time and energy in things less likely to have as significant an impact on your happiness?
5. What actions (pick 1-3) can you put in place to begin bumping up your relationships score? Here are a few ideas:

  • Eliminate something from your schedule and replace it with a weekly friend get together
  • Make a phone date with a long-distance friend you adore and have fallen out of touch with
  • Identify someone in your workplace you’d really like to know better and invite them to lunch

I’ll share my own personal answers to these five questions in a post next week, and I’d love it if you add your thoughts on these questions (below today , if you are so inspired, or in response to that post).
And one more thing, I would love for you to come visit over at Tess’ blog, The Bold Life. She interviewed me! Yes, it this is my very first interview as a blogger, and Tess has been the most remarkable champion of my work and my writing. (And she asked great questions). We talk about how people lose their creativity and how to get it back, the things I love about blogging, and….my favorite topic, compassion as the natural expression of wisdom. There’s even some controversy in the comments! Come check it out!