Research

One Girl Trying to Find Happiness Today...

I woke up this morning in a funk. The kind of blah mood that leaves me staring out windows and rolling my eyes at my to-do list. It's complicated when well-intentioned people ask me "what's wrong?" and I pause for a second, trying to come up with some litany of reasons that would cause the questioner to nod their head in agreement. I really do wish I had a justified reason, something I could point to, an understanding of why I feel unhappy. But I don't. Maybe I'm just tired?

Increasing my Happiness But while I may not have a specific reason to be suffering from some lack of adrenaline today, I do know bits and pieces of what will move me away from this space. Certainly I'm going to go to bed early tonight. I am going to try to get at least one thing checked off my to-do list today (writing this blog will count!) I am going to pause for five minutes and add bullet points to my gratitude journal. I am going to go for a late afternoon walk and get some fresh air and hope that a few endorphins sneak into my body. And, I am going to go to Girls Night tonight.

Every Tuesday night I go. I don't ever ask myself if I want to go. Tonight, I fear, I'd vote against attending if I raised the question. So, I just go. It's scheduled into my life the same way I wake up and go to work, brush my teeth, meditate and pray, watch Private Practice on Thursday nights, eat pizza on Saturday nights, show up in spiritual community every weekend and check my email. We routinize those things that are significant to us, those things that matter. And friendship is one of them for me.

As it is for you. Whether you know it or not.

Gretchen Rubin in The Happiness Project gives an entire chapter to "Make Time for Friends" saying "One conclusion was blatantly clear from my happiness research: everyone from contemporary scientists to ancient philosophers agrees that having strong social bonds is probably the most meaningful contributor to happiness."

In this year's book Wellbeing: The Five Essential Elements, they list our social connections as the second most significant factor (only after career, which determines much of our identity and contribution) to our wellbeing. Not only because who we interact with influences our habits, behaviors and health, but the very process of interacting decreases our stress and elevates our mood. A quote for me today: "Each hour of social time quickly decreases the odds of having a bad day."

And here's a kicker from the Harvard News last week based on research from their psychologists who found that "people were happiest when making love, exercising, or engaging in conversation. They were least happy when resting, working, or using a home computer." hmm.... that explains a lot.

I could go on and on, listing the evidence to support the link between our happiness and our social connections.

On the one hand the research doesn't surprise most of us. On the other hand, I find when I'm in a bad mood that I am more prone to want to cancel plans, withdraw, be alone or simply vegetate in front of the TV. Typically as we feel depressed or low energy, our desire to interact wanes. And yet, counter-intuitively, I know that the best way to raise my joy is to connect. Ahh the conundrum.

Therefore, I have a rule with myself that I don't connect with people based on my moods, but rather based on my values. Anyone who has had any success with regular exercise knows the need. If I only went running when I was looking forward to it then I probably wouldn't make it out there all too often! But for my health, for my happiness, for the things I value, for the life I want-- I will connect.

So tonight I go to girls night. I may not be the chipper one, bringing my typical positivity to the others. But I'll be there! And if science is right, arguably I should come home to my husband a wee-bit happier tonight. Which could inevitably lead to another happiness booster on the Harvard list! May as well try everything! ;)

Loneliness & Your Health

Loneliness is rampant. Loneliness is not about social skills, like-ability or the kind of friend you can be to others. You can be popular and be lonely. You can be beautiful, friendly and successful, and be lonely. You can have a full social calendar and be lonely. You can be married and be lonely. You can be networked and be lonely. Loneliness speaks to your sense of connection. Dr. Jacqueline Olds is a consulting psychiatrist at McLean Hospital, has seen patients for 32 years and is a prolific author on the subject of loneliness. She was quoted yesterday in the The Boston Globe as saying that "Aside from genetics, the two most important factors in longevity are exercise and a network of friends."

Think about how much attention is given in the media and culture to exercise! Every women's health magazine focuses on new exercises to try every month, doctors encourage us to get to the gym and schools set aside an entire period for our physical education & exercise. When was the last time you received the same kind of encouragement to focus on your friendships?

This is a huge issue. And it's largely missing from our conversations regarding our health.

How many Friends do you HAVE? The American Sociological Review published research in June 2006 that showed almost 25% of Americans claim to have no confidante that they share deeply with. Add the 19% of people who claimed to only have 1 such person in their life (most likely a spouse or significant other) and you have almost 50% of Americans who have virtually no close friends outside one relationship (imagine what happens after a divorce, break-up or death?) The other half aren't much better off with the average being two close friends.

How many Friends do you NEED? Compare those numbers of how many close friends most of us have with the numbers that suggest how many friends most of us need.

A study commissioned by The National Lottery to determine the happiness levels between lottery-winners and non-lottery winners showed that it was actually the number of friends that made a bigger impact than the amount of money the respondents had! The report found that "those with five friends or fewer had a 60 per cent chance of being unhappy. People with between five and ten friends have a 50 per cent chance of being happy. But for people with more than ten friends, the likelihood of being happy varies between 55 and 56 per cent. Adding more friends than this doesn't significantly increase the possibility of happiness- so ten is the optimum number. On average, respondents who reported themselves 'extremely satisfied' with their lives had twice the number of friends of those who were 'extremely dissatisfied'.

So on average, most of us have two close friends. And, on average, most of us would be happiest with ten.

Granted, we're all different. We are not a statistic. But do those numbers help reveal a need in our lives?

What are your numbers? How many people do you have that you confide in? How many would you like to have?

Could it be that maybe just as important, if not more, than losing those ten extra pounds might be to add those ten extra friends into your life?