Creating positive relationships and nurturing our ties to other people are fundamental practices for flourishing and enhanced well-being. Simple practices have a large impact on improving our relationships. When we do them, our own happiness increases.
Once a month, my wife, Rebecca, and I join with other musicians we’ve met over the years for an acoustic jam session. We sit in a circle and each person takes a turn performing a song, while the rest of us join in. Depending on the size of the group, we go around the circle two or three times, then break to share the food we’ve all brought. After the break, we go back to the circle and go around once or twice more.
The group varies from month to month — we may have 12 or more or we may have only 5 or 6. We sing and talk and laugh and share a meal. By the end of the evening, I have connected to people with whom I have developed positive relationships over the years. I always leave in a more relaxed, peaceful state than when I arrived, especially if I’ve had a hectic, stressful week. In a word, I am happier.
The Need For Connection
A number of studies by positive psychologists have shown the importance of having positive relationships. Bridget Grenville-Cleave, in her book Positive Psychology, tells us that “the desire for connection is a fundamental human need.” [Grenville-Cleave]
In fact, Martin Seligman (the “father” of positive psychology) includes positive relationships as one of the 5 fundamental elements in his well-being theory, along with positive emotions, engagement, meaning and accomplishment. “Other people“, Seligman says, “are the best antidote to the downs of life and the single most reliable up.” [Seligman]
We Need Other People
People who flourish spend more time with people they are close to and less time alone. In fact, “. . . the tie between flourishing and enjoying good social connections is so strong and reliable that scientists have called it a necessary condition for flourishing.” [Fredrickson] A primary factor that is shared by the happiest people is their strong social relationships, good friends and a romantic partner. [Grenville-Cleave]
When the number of positive emotions and events you experience during your day outnumbers the negative emotions and events, at a ratio of about 3 positives to 1 negative, you begin to flourish: “To be in a period of highest productivity, excellence, or influence; to do or fare well, to prosper; to grow well or luxuriantly, to thrive.” ~ The Free Dictionary And research from psychologist John Gottman indicates the positivity ratio in relationships needs to be 5:1 to create strong, long-term connections with others. [Poulsen]
Nurture Social Relationships
If you are ready to up your game and have caring, supportive relationships, here are some suggestions from The Happiness Hundred. Aim for an average of 5 positive interactions to every negative one. (While remembering the negative interactions are inevitable and even necessary.)
- Spend five minutes each day expressing appreciation or gratitude to your partner for specific behaviors.
- Before you part in the morning, find out one thing each of you is going to do that day. When you meet again, have a “reunion conversation” in a low-stress setting and listen.
- Schedule several hours once a week and make it a dedicated ritual. During this time, do something, or share an experience, together.
- Respond to good news with an active-constructive response as opposed to a passive or destructive response. Ask questions about the event or experience. Be genuinely enthusiastic about their experience. Comment on the meaning it may have for them.
- When your partner is excited to tell you something, pay close attention, ask lots of questions, and relive the experience. If you are happy for them, tell them so.
- Be helpful and supportive when your friend needs it and affirm his or her successes.
- Stand up for your friends when they’re not around; don’t disclose secrets they share with you; don’t put down their other friends; and reciprocate favors.
- Aim for 5 hugs per day, with different people. Research shows: Hugging makes you happier.
Build High-Quality Connections
As you are improving your relationships, try using one or more of these techniques from positive psychologist and author, Barbara Fredrickson.
4 ways to build high-quality connections [Fredrickson]
- Respectful engagement – be present, attentive and affirming
- Support what the other person is doing
- Trust – believe you can depend on the other person and let it show
- Play – allow time to goof off with no particular outcomes in mind
Developing Excelerated Relationships
Developing and enjoying positive relationships (romantic and otherwise) is an important part of well-being. So much so, that Martin Seligman identifies it as the R in his PERMA model of well-being theory. The investment of time you make to cultivate and tend your relationships with your romantic partner, your family and your friends will be well repaid.
Developing Excelerated relationships — nurturing ties to other people — derives from the research by Martin Seligman, Barbara Fredrickson, Sonja Lyubomirsky and many others. It emphasizes the significance of developing and cultivating strong, positive relationships with other people. And that is an important aspect of embracing the Excelerated Life™!
Developing Excelerated relationships — nurturing ties to other people — is one step in creating your Excelerated Life™, a life of flourishing, of well-being, meaning, and purpose.
Fredrickson, Ph.D., Barbara, L. Positivity. New York: Crown Publishing Group, 2009
Grenville-Cleave, Bridget. Positive Psychology: A Practical Guide. New York: MJF Books. 2012
Poulsen, Shruti S. “A Fine Balance: The Magic Ratio to a Healthy Relationship.” Purdue Extension, Mar. 2008, www.extension.purdue.edu/extmedia/cfs/cfs-744-w.pdf.
Seligman, Ph.D., Martin E. P. Flourish. New York: Free Press, 2011