Everyone wants to know the secret to happiness. You may think that more money or losing 20 pounds will make you happier. But you could be looking for contentment in the wrong places.
Money, weight loss and possessions can provide pleasant feelings for a while. But it turns out that having a healthy relationship is one of the best predictors of happiness. Here’s why:
1. We Need People
Romantic relationships aren’t the only kinds of connections we need. Friendships can make a big difference in our happiness, too. That’s because we were born with a need to connect to other people. A Harvard study observed people for 75 years and found that loving relationships had the greatest impact on happiness.
2. Relationships Lower Our Stress Response
Having close relationships with people lowers our body’s negative response to stressful situations. Science even backs it up. One study subjected people to the stressful situation of public speaking. The researchers found that people who had a close friend or family member with them saw their heart rate go back to normal more quickly.
3. Relationships Are Good Influences on Us
Close relationships can help us make better choices. The people we love can encourage us to adopt healthier habits and may even employ them with us. This doesn’t work in every instance, of course, but our friends and loved ones can be a good influence. We tend to become like the people we spend the most time with, so spending time with successful, respectable people can encourage us to behave similarly.
4. Our Relationships Can Offer Emotional Support
Just knowing that you’re not alone can make a big difference. Relationships with friends and loved ones can give you a sense of peace and comfort. Being able to talk to a loved one during hard or stressful times can help you get through it. We all need emotional support. A friend doesn’t have to give you all the answers—they just need to offer a listening ear and a warm hug.
5. Good Relationships Prevent Depression
Social support can help to prevent depression. Previous studies showed that having strong social support was related to lower depression rates in people with heart disease. But there’s good reason to believe that supportive relationships protect against depression, too.
Other studies show that close relationships are beneficial for mental health as well. People with close friends and loved ones are better able to cope with difficult situations, like ill children or parents, unemployed spouses, or even just the challenges of being in college or away from home.
6. Relationships Can Boost Your Self-Esteem
Healthy relationships can improve your life by giving your self-esteem a boost. We all need to feel like someone is in our corner, encouraging us on and rooting for us. Our friends and loved ones can function as our own personal cheerleading squad. When you feel down and lack self-confidence, your friends can remind you of your good traits.
7. Relationships Help Us to be Healthier
Having close friends and relationships can help us to be healthier. Studies show that people who have a strong network of social support are more likely to eat well and exercise, and are less likely to smoke. The quality of the relationship is critical, though. For example, women who are in unhappy marriages are more likely to have high blood pressure, higher cholesterol, and higher body mass indexes than women in happy marriages.
If you don’t currently have enough healthy relationships in your life, don’t give up hope. Counseling can help you learn how to cultivate new friendships and improve your existing relationships. Your relationships can then help your life become fuller and richer.
If you are ready to work on developing lasting satisfaction and happiness through your relationships, I would like to help. Please contact me via email or voicemail so we can discuss how we might work together to achieve your therapeutic goals as quickly and effectively as possible.
I look forward to hearing from you.
Linda K. Laffey, MFT