Relationships and happiness

25 09 2014

Relationships are an important part of our happiness. We derive a major chunk of our happiness from our various relationships –  both intimate and otherwise. Research has shown that number of friends is a good predictor of happiness. Also that talking with friends is strongly related to being happy. A Daniel Kahneman study found that intimate relations and socializing are the most highly associated experiences with positive emotions.

The converse is true too. Loneliness causes unhappiness. Lonely people have weaker immune system, difficulty of sleeping, and hyper-inflammation in their bodies. It is interesting to note here that social exclusion/loneliness (social pain) activates the same regions of the brain that signal physical pain.

From evolutionary perspective, we are a care-giving species. we tend to reconcile when conflict occurs (a reconciling species),  we have a sense that we are all fairly similar, we are a hyper-coordinated species. We imitate the behavior of other individuals in our group. We tend to maintain monogamy ( or at least try to).

We have lost some of our ultra-sociality now evident by the increasing no. of divorces, less happy marriages, and loneliness. So, what are the obstacles? – insecure style of attachment is one. There are three styles of attachment (John Bowlby):

  • Secure – loving, warm, and affectionate
  • Anxious – always worry about the trustworthiness of the bond ; worries, intrusive, insecure, feeling of abandonment; more likely to have experienced divorce, abuse, or loss of a parent
  • Avoidant – cold, aloof, dismissive

Secure people tend to have greater life satisfaction, greater happiness, more likely to be in stable relationships, experience more positive emotions on a day-to-day basis, more optimistic, more likely to forgive, to offer social support to their partners. Several studies have found that inducing feelings of attachment security in adults can help overcome some of the negative effects of an insecure attachment history.

It is argued that early childhood attachment patterns predict adult attachment styles in romantic relationships later in life. However, Meghan Laslocky, in this article, says that the pattern can be changed. She feels that it will help: to first learn about one’s attachment style (knowledge is power), then seek out partners with secure attachment style, find a therapist, and go to couple therapy -if both have insecure style.

Scientific studies have shown that we are also biologically wired to socially connect. We have something called “vagus nerve”, which is strongly related to feelings of connection and care toward others.- it is interconnected to oxytocin networks, regulates inflammatory responses to disease, it relates to stronger immune system, it helps you communicate, to empathize, feel compassion. Oxytocin is a hormone that is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone,” the “love hormone,” or the “moral molecule.” Oxytocin increases monogamous tendencies in mammalian species. It quiets stress responses. It’s a promoter of family attachments, social connections and friendships.

Can we seek and achieve happiness outside of our relationships? Absolutely yes, and it’s required too. Though relationships – life partner, children, parents, close friends, – contribute a lot, they are not everything. Depending solely on someone or a few for our happiness is a mantra for disaster. It’s difficult for both the parties. It often results in feelings of disappointment on one side and burden on the other side.

Part 3 of Science of Happiness series.

Part 1    Part 2



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