What makes us happy in life? A question that has puzzled humans for centuries. In 1938, Harvard researchers began a decades-long study to answer this question. After 85 years of study, they have found that the most consistent factor that contributes to a happy and healthy life is positive relationships. Contrary to what most people might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet. Positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer.
The study has found that relationships affect us physically. The invigoration we feel after a good conversation or the lack of sleep during a period of romantic strife are examples. To make sure that our relationships are healthy and balanced, we need to practice “social fitness.”
Social fitness requires us to take stock of our relationships, be honest with ourselves about where we’re devoting our time, and whether we are tending to the connections that help us thrive. Humans are social creatures, and we need others to interact with and help us. There are seven keystones of support in our relational lives: safety and security, learning and growth, emotional closeness and confiding, identity affirmation and shared experience, romantic intimacy, help (both informational and practical), and fun and relaxation.
To determine where we’re getting the support we need, we can use a chart arranged around the seven keystones. We should place a plus (+) symbol in the appropriate columns if a relationship seems to add to that type of support in our life, and a minus (-) symbol if a relationship lacks that type of support. Not all relationships offer us all these types of support, and that’s okay. We can use this exercise to see below the surface of our social universe and determine where the gaps are.
Looking at the gaps on the chart, we might realize that we have plenty of people we have fun with, but no one to confide in. Or maybe we only have one person we go to for help, or we take someone who makes us feel safe and secure for granted. It’s never too late to deepen the connections that matter to us. Whether it’s a thoughtful question or a moment of devoted attention, we should never be afraid to reach out to the people in our lives.
In conclusion, the secret to a happy life is positive relationships. We need to practice social fitness and take stock of our relationships regularly to determine where we’re getting the support we need. By doing so, we can deepen the connections that matter to us and live happier, healthier lives.