There is nothing more universally human than our own desire to find happiness. The path to that greater happiness, however, seems as unique our own DNA. In working with clients for the better part of two decades, I find that happiness is more elusive with technology-driven relationships and the dwindling opportunities to get deeply engaged with other people, institutions, and purpose-driven activities. In this article, I try to share some of the wisdom from the research on happiness that can help you on your path.
Cultivate In-Person Relationships
Good in-person relationships are critical to creating personal balance and happiness. Having a supportive social network can help you improve your cognitive functioning, promote better mental health, and build a sense of perspective on your unique circumstances. Networks help to both support and provide context, and most importantly, they help to ascribe meaning to the ups and downs and the ebb and flow of positive well-being.
Of course, not just any social connection will do. Dysfunctional relationships can be toxic and should be avoided at all costs. You don’t need a large network to find a deep sense of fulfillment. It’s more about quality than quantity and having four or five excellent friends who you can rely on is far better than a vast network with good, bad, and ugly (dysfunctional) relationships.
What about Networking?
I find the entrepreneurs that I work with are often the happiest and functional of clients, even though their business may go up and down like a yo-yo. Part of why most of them are so well adjusted is that they network like crazy. They meet up for coffee, they share their wins and losses, and they support one another (even when they are competing for the same business at the time.
Using a professional network, a group of sports enthusiasts or a meet-up for people that have similar hobbies (running, knitting, stamp collecting, you name it) can pay huge dividends toward a more stable and enjoyable life.
Be willing to step outside of your boundaries to form deeper connections. Take a risk and invite someone to coffee or lunch. You don’t have to be vulnerable with everyone, but vulnerability and being open takes practice, and having relationships that can support you in darker times is critical.
The Relationships You Need
Real relationships, like the kind you need in your life, are authentic. They go beyond business promotion, an event, or a personal agenda and cross into authentic sharing. You don’t just share your wins, you share your losses and personal challenges, too.
The basis of growing a relationship is born out of a desire to be fun, kind, caring, and loving. It demands two-way conversation. That is, it requires a commitment to being a good listener as well as a talker. It may cost you time to listen to another’s problems or hear about their life, but they will appreciate you for it.
But both parties need to want the relationship for it to thrive. It takes two to say yes, but only one to say no to any kind of relationship. Meeting with someone who repeatedly dominates your get-togethers is pointless. If the person you’ve chosen to meet with has any emotional intelligence, he or she will give the floor to you too. Both should walk away from having learned something new about each other.
12 Traits for Building Relationships
To add balance to your life, try these ways of developing a healthy social circle that enhances your life.
- Develop a few quality relationships over having a number of relationships.
- Choose a few acquaintances to develop a closer relationship with.
- Don’t give in to jealousy when you see others connecting without you.
- Avoid giving away too much time to unhealthy people who will drag you down.
- Step out of social media to get to know people in person.
- Insist on two-way conversations, and make a point to listen when interacting with others.
- Allow time for relationships to grow.
- Go into relationships with kindness, caring, and love.
- Schedule time for relationships that have no agenda.
- Go into relationships focusing on the good about a person.
- Don’t focus on what you don’t like about others.
- Resist the temptation to judge others prematurely or to write them off.
When contemplating the people you want in your life, take an inventory. Ask yourself if you are pouring enough energy into those immediately closest to you. If not, make a change.
Next, contemplate the opportunities you have to cultivate deeper relationships. Join in-person groups in the community, and contact old friends. It takes effort.
Remember to let the relationship-building process steep. Don’t be too smothering of a new friend or too hasty in moving on. Relationships take time to build and are worth it. “Studies have shown people are happier when they have a few good relationships they can count on,” Dr. Mac Powell.