In her book ‘The How of Happiness’, Sonja Lyubomirsky talks about the importance of relationships to happiness.
“In order to become happier, we must learn to imitate the habits of very happy people. Happy people are exceptionally good at their friendships, family and intimate relationships. The happier a person is – the more likely he or she is to have a large circle of friends or companions, a romantic partner and ample social support. The happier a person, the more likely she is to be married and to have a fulfilling and long-lasting marriage. The happier the person, the more likely she is to be satisfied with her family life and social activities, to consider her partner her ‘great love’, and to receive emotional and tangible support from friends, supervisors and co-workers.”
So, how much time, effort and energy do you give to the most important relationships in your life? I’m sure all our answers would be different to that question but I imagine that most of us would probably say we want to spend more time, effort and energy nurturing our relationships, rather than less.
Part of the problem, I think, is that relationships are not concrete, with definite levels of achievement. We might say that our most precious goals are to do with creating strong relationships, but how do we actually define that, how do we measure it, and how do we focus on this ambiguity when there are so many other more measurable and material goals that demand our attention?
When I am completely honest, all of my top three goals in life are to do with creating, nurturing and sustaining relationships. I want to have a long, strong and happy marraige. I want to nurture my children into confident, healthy, kind and happy adults, and I want to have helped many women in their lives and relationships throughout my career. With the first two goals, I’ll have to wait many years to see if I’ve ‘done’ it right. I won’t get paid for it, I won’t have many concrete measurements of whether I’m doing it right along the way, and I won’t have a lot of help or training either. With the latter, others will be able to judge how ‘successful’ I am by how much money I make, how many women I help, whether I write a book, if my blog is popular etc. There is often immediate feedback on how well we are doing in this area. We also have easier steps along the way to focus on, we can make strategic career plans, incorporating intermediate goals and milestones. How easy is it to create a project plan of nurturing confident children? It’s not a simple process with a beginning and an end, unlike say, becoming an expert in a certain area and writing a book about it. I’m not saying becoming an expert, or succeeding in your chosen field is easy, but there is usually a recognised process to follow. Parenting and relationships are not like that. It’s more messy and confusing and challenging, and contradictory and personal and I’m not surprised we get distracted by more ‘simple’ and quantifyable goals.
However, the thing with happy people is that they don’t get so easily distracted by other goals (they still have them and are often very busy and successful). Instead they consistently prioritise relationships and prioritise time for their most important relationships. They see spending time with loved ones, friends, family as a goal in itself. They are kind within these relationships, they are grateful of these relationships and they are mindful and patient with these relationships.
Some of us are naturally good at nurturing and prioritising relationships, while some of us need to work harder at it. Either way, if you do something often enough, it becomes a habit, and people who have daily habits that make them happy (like prioritising relationships), are indeed happier than those who sacrifice daily happiness habits on the alter of long term goals.
I’ll leave you with another quote from Sonja Lyubomirsky:
“The causal relationship between social relationships and happiness is clearly bidirectional. This means that romantic partners and friends make people happy, but it also means that happy people are more likely to acquire lovers and friends. This conclusion, which my colleagues and I have put forth on the basis of numerous studies, is actually rather optimistic. It implies that if you begin today to improve and cultivate your relationships, you reap the gift of positive emotions. In turn, the enhanced feelings of happiness will help you attract more and higher-quality relationships, which will make you even happier, and so on, in a continuous positive feedback loop. In other words, by applying this happiness-increasing strategy, you will embark on what psychologists call and ‘upward-spiral’.”