Happiness Habits: Value Relationships
This is the fourth in a series of articles based on the twelve happiness habits in The Little Book of Happiness. Habit 7 is to Value Relationships, which are our number one source of wellbeing. And a very good way to do that is by Practising Kindness, the 8th habit.
Wellbeing begins with ‘we’
Psychologist Chris Peterson once said that he could sum up the whole of the science of happiness in three little words – ‘other people matter’, which is why ‘Value Relationships’ is the next happiness habit in our webinar series. Relatedness is a sense of connection and belonging and is one of three fundamental needs for wellbeing along with autonomy and a sense of competence.
All you need is love, The Beatles
Love is our supreme emotion and the capacity to love and be loved is one of the most reliable ways to raise the bar on our level of happiness. The absence of loving connection breeds loneliness, which can trigger a whole host of health issues.
In her book Love 2.0 Prof Barbara Fredrickson, one of the leading researchers on positive emotions, defines love as a ‘micro-moment of warmth and connection shared with another living being’. Three things occur in a moment of ‘positivity resonance’ or love to you and me; we have a shared experience of positive emotion; our behaviour and biochemistry go into sync and there’s a mutual impulse to care for each other. The benefits of love are not exclusive to romantic and family relationships. The good news is that it can even happen with a stranger. I first read about this on a train to Bristol Temple Meads and immediately had a moment of positivity resonance with the train conductor!
Prof John Gottman is one of the world’s leading relationships experts. He ran the ‘Love Lab’ at the University of Washington where he was able to predict which couples would split up. Four behaviours predict divorce with over 80% accuracy – criticism, contempt, stonewalling and defensiveness. His research demonstrates that it takes a ratio of 5 to 1 positive to negative emotional experiences for a relationship to thrive. It just shows you how negative experiences can have such a damaging impact on a relationship if you need to make it up to your partner with five positive emotional events, maybe a nice meal out, back massage, posh chocs, wine, tickets to the gig etc!
Communication is Key
The way we interact can help or hinder a relationship. Prof Shelly Gable, at the University of California, has identified four communication styles, which are revealed by how we respond to someone’s good news.
Ignores the news, changes the focus.
“Listen to what happened to me.”
Quiet, low energy support
“I suppose that’s nice.”
Quashes the event.
“Sounds stressful. I don’t envy you.”
Enthusiastic, energetic support
“That’s great news. Tell me more…”
Active-constructive responding (ACR) is a way of responding to someone’s good news with energy, enthusiasm and excitement and is the only style which supports relationships. The others have a negative impact. Make sure you follow up with questions that enable the person to capitalise on their good news and generate even more positive emotion. It may surprise you to know that it is more important for the health of the relationship to practise ACR in the good times than it is to provide a shoulder to cry on during the bad times.
“The milk of human kindness is… happiness.” Sonja Lyubomirsky
One of the best ways of nurturing our wider relationships is through our next happiness habit – practising kindness. Acts of kindness are a win:win. They are good for you and for the greater good. Kindness is the virtue of doing good deeds for others without any expectation of personal gain. With a splash of empathy, compassion, generosity, care, altruism and love you have some of the many faces of kindness.
Kindness feeds happiness, oils the wheels of relationships and creates positive communities. It puts the kind into kindred spirit and is the very essence of humanity. Volunteers often experience a ‘helpers’ high’, which is an antidote to low mood and can act as a distraction from your own troubles.
Prof Sonja Lyubomirsky at the University of California has noted a strong link between acts of kindness and our level of happiness. Her recommendations when practising kindness are:
- Acts of kindness can be small and brief, spontaneous or pre-planned BUT they have to come from a place of selflessness. Performing a good deed just to make yourself feel better limits its benefits.
- Concentrating the kindnesses into a single day will boost your happiness more than spreading them out.
- Add variety to keep the kindness fresh and stop it becoming a chore.
- Stretch yourself. Too few good deeds and you won’t gain the benefits.
Starter for Ten: Acts of Kindness
- Pay for someone’s coffee, parking or travel.
- Befriend a neighbour and lend them a helping hand.
- Volunteer with a local charity or surprise someone with the gift of your time.
- Pay it forward by performing a random act of kindness for someone.
- Buy a homeless person a night in a hostel.
- Be considerate. Open the door for someone, carry a heavy bag, let someone go ahead of you in a line.
- Invite someone over to share a meal.
- Pay someone a compliment. Tell them what you appreciate about them.
- Talk to the person on their own at a social event.
How to Value Relationships
So coming back to our happiness habit, the easiest and best way to value our relationships is to make them a priority and give them the attention they deserve. Relationships are a bit like plants. Feed and water them and they will grow. One of our earlier happiness habits was savouring – being present to a positive experience to lengthen and strengthen it and we can also apply this to the important people in our lives. Cherishing is about appreciating the positive qualities in a relationship to savour the love that is there. For this we can borrow questions from Appreciative Inquiry, which is an approach to change management.
Cherishing our Relationships
Reflect on one of your current positive relationships e.g. with a partner, friend, family member or neighbour.
- Identify a high point. What was it? Why was it special?
- What do you value most about the person?
- What do you value most about the relationship?