Community & RelationshipMore Everyday Joy

The #1 Happiness Vitamin?

By April 23, 2010 14 Comments

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!



Join the discussion 14 Comments

  • Lance says:

    Hi Tara,
    You know, I just continue to find this to be so true – how our relationships really can add to our level of happiness. I had a conversation with a good friend today – one that went much deeper that just the pleasantries of life. And it really was in those moments that I felt a much deeper and more meaningful happiness.

    So – these questions can really get deep, too. I probably put myself in the range of 6-8. And I really have to think some more as to what this means, and why they are what they are. Tara, thanks so much for this thought-provoking post!

  • Topi says:

    Hi Tara,
    When I think of the things that make my life wonderful, one of the key elements is the presence of many “rich and satisfying social relationships”. Yes, that includes my delightful family, but it also includes the diverse people I come into contact with at work, at the coffee shop, at the supermarket, when picking my kids up from school, at the library. You get the point! Interacting with a wide variety of people on a regular basis brings so many benefits – much needed human contact, new perspectives, spirited debates, touching and personal conversations, the opportunity to learn, and to have a hearty belly laugh. I wouldn’t trade any of them! And, they are definitely one of the ingredients in my recipe for happiness. But, given that I think I have lots of “rich and satisfying social relationships” in my life, is it wrong to want more? Am I being greedy? Or is that just a natural part of wanting to continue to grow and develop?

  • Hi Tara,

    Recently, I have put more effort into building relationships, and things have changed so quickly. I find that people are open to meeting someone new and getting to know them. I am surprised at how easy it is, and I know the difference is that I am receptive and genuinely interested in what other people are up to. Not that I wasn’t before, but I didn’t emphasize it as much

    I tend to get holed up into my own life, so putting more awareness into this aspect is creating a wonderful sense of balance.

    Thanks for the reminders.

    Love, Gail

  • Chania Girl says:

    Hi, Tara! Would you believe I’m here because I read Tess’s post with your interview? It rocked, and that’s why I had to pop over. Of course, I immediately subscribed and have already been enjoying your posts in my reader this week.

    This post had a lot of meaning for me because, at one time, it would have been hard for me to answer with anything beyond a 6, but that is no longer true, and I found my first gut answer to be around an “8,” which made me very pleased.

    I live overseas, in Greece, so this is something that feels like quite an accomplishment. It is not altogether difficult to meet other ex-pats or locals, but it’s quite another thing to be able to find common passions, goals, and interests and be able to develop a real friendship. This is one of the things, therefore, that I’ve been most proud of in my life in recent months. And so grateful to the Universe for.

    One thing that I think helps sustain the friendships I and my husband do have is regular socializing. We girls get together every Thursday morning for Girls’ Coffee Morn. And most weekends find some group of us somewhere, either sharing a few beers or grabbing a bite or even singing karaoke. G and I plan this into our week … making sure that we create space at the weekend to be able to do this … or to just have some time for us.

    We feel that the greatest source of “wealth” in our lives are our friends. We feel doubly blessed.

  • Hello Tara,

    I love this article!! You make a great point here. I too believe that our external relationships play a big part on our internal happiness. Some people, in fact, thrive on socializing with others to get a sense of fulfillment in life. Great article, Tara, thanks for sharing!!

  • Hi Tara!! I was overjoyed to meet you at Tess’. She sure knows how to pick ’em!!

    I’d say meeting more with friends locally, plus writing 3snail-mail letters a week would bump my happiness level from a 9 to a 10.

    And I’m not surprised at all to hear wealth has zero bearing on happiness. I think humans are designed to have people to love, not things to love.


  • sophiashouse says:

    Hey Lance!

    Yes it’s so true…good times with a good friend are so powerful in changing our state of being and sparking happiness…in fact I had a great experience like that with a friend yesterday and ended up writing about it my post today.

    And, I’m particularly happy that you found this useful enough that you are thinking about where you’d put your own life with this…..look forward to hearing more as you contemplate the questions!



  • sophiashouse says:

    Hi Topi,
    Yes, its so true – rich and satisfying relationships don’t mean only close and deep ones. I too get a lot from talking with people out there in the world as I go about my day in my community.
    I love your question about wanting more…my bias is that there is always room for more goodness in our lives!
    Love, Tara

  • sophiashouse says:

    Hi Gail,
    Hmmm that’s really interesting, how your change in energy or approach is impacting how others receive you and how life is unfolding.
    Your comment is a great reminder that this is an area of life we can devote attention and awareness to like any other – I think so often we fall into thinking things are “just the way they are” in this part of our lives.
    Love, Tara

  • sophiashouse says:

    Hi there Chania!
    So nice to *meet* you and welcome to Wise Living.
    Glad you enjoyed the interview at The Bold Life and I’m so happy it resonated with you so much that you subscribed here.
    Thanks so much for sharing a bit about your journey building relationships in Greece. I can hear how friendships are a core part of your life – and how you’ve really learned what it looks like for you to find and cultivate ones that enrich your life.
    So true it is the greatest source of wealth.
    Look forward to hearing more from you!
    Love, Tara

  • sophiashouse says:

    Thanks Jarrod, so glad that you enjoyed this and that it resonated with you!

  • sophiashouse says:

    So glad you came over here via the interview. Welcome!

    And I’m delighted to read you applied these questions to your own life.

    I love the last line of your comment. It sounds like a blog-post in the making to me….would love to read more of your thoughts about it!

    Warmly, Tara

  • This is an interesting idea as the word “satisfying” popped out at me. I have relationships. I have rich relationships with some and satisfying relationships with some – but there are those with whom I have difficult or challenging relationships. I wonder if it is possible for those to counter act the others? I love people though – all that they offer and bring to the table… their stories, experiences… and I enjoy working with them.

  • sophiashouse says:

    Sounds like it would be fruitful to explore what “satisfying relationships” look like for you….
    It’s interesting – almost always those relationships with find difficult or challenging have the potential to grow us in very important ways. But growing and staying are not the same of course 😉

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