Love, relationships and happiness

This page last updated June 13th, 2016

This page in brief ….

We all know that relationships are an important part of life, but psychologists say that they are critical to life satisfaction.

If we look beyomnd ourselves and our own pleasures, paradoxically, we generally make ourselves happier.

The psychologists’ verdict is in!

Studies of happiness and life satisfaction show that loving relationships are one of the major keys.

If we have “extrinsic” goals, such as achieving reputation or fame, we are more likely to experience illness, anxiety, depression, and generally be less happy in life than those who seek “intrinsic” goals, such as deep, enduring relationships. Arthur Brooks: You want to be free of the sticky cravings of unhappiness and find a formula for happiness instead. How? ….. Love people, use things.

A 75 year long study of several hundred American men came to a similar conclusion. Among the five lessons Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant drew from the study were these:

  • Love Is Really All That Matters. Vaillant has said that the study’s most important finding is that the only thing that matters in life is relationships. A man could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn’t be happy (Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.).
  • Connection Is Crucial. Strong relationships are the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. The more areas in your life you can make connection, the better Vaillant says. A growing body of research links social ties with longevity, lower stress levels and improved overall well-being.

Vaillant also concluded that a stable marriage is one of the seven predictors of healthy aging.

Other studies show that the happiest people spend the least time alone. Good relationships act as a buffer to other adverse circumstances such as illness or unemployment.

All sorts of relationships

A stable marriage (or a stable relationship with a life partner) is one of the main contributors to long term satisfaction in life, but other relationships are important too.

George Vaillant’s study found, perhaps surprisingly, that “warm” childhood relations with our parents are associated with significantly better satisfaction throughout life and into old age.

And psychologist Todd Kashdan identifies these characteristics of happier people:

  • Happy people have stronger, more intimate friendships.
  • Happy people are more likely to be in satisfying romantic relationships.
  • Happy people spend more time helping other people.
  • Happy people are viewed positively by other people.

People in groups such as sporting teams, interest groups or churches tend to be happier than others, because of the network of friends such groups provide.

Why is it so?

We gain significant satisfaction in life from having purpose and meaning, being generous and altruistic, and being a “giver” more than a “taker”. Successful relationships require both give and take. Significant relationships provide purpose as well as companionship. Relationships reduce loneliness.

The bottom line

If we want a happy and satisfying life, it is important that we cultivate good relationships, and work on being the sorts of peope who can maintain good relationships. Ideal is one close relationship and a network of friends.

Photo Credit: MorgueFile.

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