Relationships maintain the key ingredients to a healthy and satisfying life, and we have seen how small (and large) investments in our greatest relationships can create tremendous ripples of well-being for a life span. In a completely online study accomplished, there was a sample size of 55,000 respondents from all over the world that indicated that 1 out of 3 were experiencing frequent feelings of loneliness. More specifically, the 16 to 24-year old’s reported feelings of loneliness “often or very often.” There are more complications than this implies for each country’s economy. In the United Kingdom, a recent establishment of the UK Ministry of Loneliness attempts to account for the productivity loss as well as employment turnover and burnout culture each year due to this ongoing circumstance of loneliness.
It was noted that the average American in 2018 spent 11 hours, daily, on solitary activities such as watching TV, viewing social media, or listening to the radio. Distractions continue to abound and are difficult to evade. Loneliness has a tendency to render people more sensitive to pain, disrupt nightly rhythms in sleep cycles, bring suppression to immune systems, lower brain functioning, and create a propensity toward more lethargy and irritability. Recent evidence indicates that those older adults that suffer from loneliness maintain far greater risk than even obesity. Another recent study from the UK indicates that those who were 18 and had poor self-care alongside less social capital were seen to have a greater trajectory for facing problematic and unsafe behaviors, mental health circumstances, and likelihood for experiencing life stressors in maladaptive ways.
For over 85 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining what makes up the good life and followed 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. As one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history, its contents are as much literature as science and offer profound insight into the human condition. Even a recent podcast from Harvard’s sociological longitudinal research of Robert Waldinger indicates that relationships are the cornerstone and sure foundation toward sustaining happiness across the decades.
At times we have felt the joyful invigoration of someone completely understanding us during a robust conversation; other times we have experienced the distress and tension during an argument and a night of sleeplessness that would follow the relational strife. When given into our own form of self-reflection, we have already noted the physical benefits to maintaining fulfilling relationships and connections with others; many in the medical community have termed this as social fitness. Even beyond holding the body weight in check while stepping on a scale, taking a simple glance at the wall mirror, obtaining doctor’s readouts of our blood pressure and cholesterol, having regular occasions of self-reflection to determine where our relationships lie in context to our level of connectedness is an immense need in this global season. These self-reflections can be difficult and challenging but have the capability of yielding tremendous benefits.
Research confirms that our desire to feel seen, heard, and recognized in a community is part of being authentically human. We place enormous value on our relative roles and relationships to other group members. Not feeling valued for our personal contributions or sensing that our value has not been acknowledged by others can activate the stress response and feel like a threat. Being rejected by your clan would put you at risk of being ostracized, which, in the wild, was akin to death. And that can be perhaps why rejection activates similar regions in the brain as physical pain.
Our innate sense of connection to others does not merely impact our mental and physical health though. In a more concrete manner, it directly influences motivation. Research on self-determination theory, demonstrates that in addition to having a sense of autonomy and freedom, motivation at work is largely impacted by our feelings of connection to others. We feel inspired when we are reminded that we are not alone in our endeavors and that our experiences are not ours alone to struggle through. One of the things that makes burnout particularly detrimental is its inherent link to loneliness.
We can improve in our sense of cultivating healthy relationships through these principles from social psychology reflections. All of our relationships can flourish when we put into practice these practices.
Be authentically transparent with honesty
Healthy relationships thrive on clear, honest, consistent, and open communication between individuals. People can feel degraded, dehumanized, and disregarded without transparency and honesty. These are essential ingredients toward healthy cultivation of relationships. Emotions researchers indicate that our hearts accelerate, and we tend to pulsate and over-sweat when we sense that others are not authentic and honest amid our interactions. Authenticity allows for others to be put into ease and for each other to be heard, valued, and seen in the process of cultivating health in the relationship.
Pursue the best version of each other
One of the clearest indicators of relationship satisfaction is to pursue the best version of one another, and to keep a positive image of others in our minds. When people see us for the best version of ourselves, this continually provokes us to improve. Inviting others to be confidants who encourage and empower the best version of who we are allows us to keep motivated and inspired to press through setbacks and personal barriers. Everyone seeks to be appreciated and valued in appreciation of their unique individuality. Interactions that pursue the best version of one another can be altogether energizing while enhancing the quality of our productivity in our life span.
While we want to actively pursue the best version of ourselves as well as others through our interactions, this will require that we actively pursue our own sense of sanity. Attend to your own needs and nurture your life energies as others interact with you. Take meaningful vacations, mini work breaks, and opportunities to recharge and refuel yourself. Learn which mental states burn you out and take precautions to pursue balance and sanity.
Follow core values
It will take intentional effort to develop relational skills in compassion, generosity, forgiveness, consistently seeing the best in others among other qualities as strengths. In order to create a positive relational atmosphere that will yield more personal satisfaction and subjective well-being and longevity in life span, foster emotional and intellectual connection with others through aligning one another on the same value system. Read more here. Consistent moments of happiness and joy await those that are aligned with their core values. When people feel more inspired, taken care of, and are valued for their individuality – this will foster greater social engagement. Pursue healthy cultivation of your relationships to conclude this life as “happy-well.”
“One of the clearest indicators of relationship satisfaction is to pursue the best version of one another, and to keep a positive image of others in our minds. When people see us for the best version of ourselves, this continually provokes us to improve.
By Deepak Santhiraj, Licensed Clinical Social Worker
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