‘Happiness is only real when shared’ – Christopher McCandless
How many times have you heard or said, ‘X and I have been meaning to meet, but we’re both so busy.’ We live in what seems to be an increasingly individualistic and distracted society, and it is impacting our social ties. Research found that we are trending towards having fewer close friends and fewer people to rely on. The average number of close friends we have went from 3 to 2 in the past 30 years. The amount of people we can rely on for social support (i.e. those we can ask for personal or financial help) is also decreasing. This has an adverse effect on our health and happiness. Our social ties can predict mortality, cardiovascular disease, progress of cancer, and cognitive function. One doctor called loneliness ‘the new tobacco’, because of its negative effects on our health.
The effects on happiness are similarly clear-cut. Days in which you interact with people both close and not close were shown to be better than days by yourself. Introverts might be shocked by these details, but the effects were shown across both extroverts and introverts. The amount of close friends you had also increased happiness and it doesn’t seem to top off: Having 3 is better than 2, 10 is better than 9.
Ways to Get Closer
Meet in Person One big question has been how social media has impacted our social lives. Research found that generally, online connection is better than being alone, but does not compare to physical presence, which trumps them all in terms of increasing happiness. There’s something to be said about real life experiences and memories that cannot be mimicked through an online chat. So get out there and have real life experiences with friends.
Get Mindful What happens when you actually meet in person? Research has found that the presence of a phone on the table can decrease the depth of the conversation. Maybe it’s the fear of potential distractions, but people are sharing less and less about themselves and defaulting to easier and shallower conversations. Take the phone off the table, and really try to get to know the person on the other side.
Cultivate resilience Note: If you are in an abusive and deceitful relationship – please remove yourself from the situation. That being said, one large driver of loneliness is self-protection. Indeed, close friends can be a source of criticism, jealousies, disappointment and other negative feelings. After experiencing such negative feelings, people often vow to never let that happen again. But they are also ensuring that they do not get to enjoy the most beautiful parts of human relations. Fundamentally, we can all become stronger in the face of pain as long as we are gentle towards ourselves. Pain is a part of life, but if we consciously take lessons and grow, we can create many great memories with others that will last us a lifetime.
Love yourself On a similar note, it’s true that in order to love other people, we must love ourselves. If we are full of self-criticism, we are bound to be critical of others. Learning to listen, forgive, and treat ourselves well is crucial. Next time, if you catch yourself saying something negative to yourself, replace it with compassion for your flaws and try encouragement instead. Ultimately it requires readjustment, education, and effort, but you are the one who chooses how you treat yourself.
Gratitude Society has become more individualistic and people have idealized self-sufficiency to the point that people are afraid to lean on others. And indeed, sometimes being tied to a group’s opinion can hamper self-actualization and, asking for and receiving help may make one feel helpless and even needy. That being said, we may have taken this individualistic approach too far. All people are a product of their surroundings, we have been lucky in a lot of cases, and we have received help to get to where we are. Take time to recognize that you are part of a group and that you have been fully formed not despite other people, but in part because of other people. One way to increase your happiness is to take some time out to write a gratitude letter to someone whom you’ve not yet expressed the depth of gratitude you have. Writing and delivering this has been shown to create powerful increases in happiness that last for weeks.
Building friendships and intimacy is a skill. And as with all skills, its something that we can learn through effort, education, and small risks. If you feel you need some support, there are professionals and life coaches that are there to help you navigate through the trickier areas.
In the meantime, you can check out Uplifter, an app designed to help you build gratitude and resilience through daily journaling exercises. Signup for early access at http://www.uplifter.io