This is something I had been thinking about for a long time, so it is nice to see my thoughts pulled together more coherently than I ever could. The gist of this article is that we have bought into the idea that happiness is an inner quest to undertaken in solitude. And yet
Study after study shows that good social relationships are the strongest, most consistent predictor there is of a happy life, even going so far as to call them a “necessary condition for happiness,” meaning that humans can’t actually be happy without them. This is a finding that cuts across race, age, gender, income and social class so overwhelmingly that it dwarfs any other factor.
And according to research, if we want to be happy, we should really be aiming to spend less time alone. Despite claiming to crave solitude when asked in the abstract, when sampled in the moment, people across the board consistently report themselves as happier when they are around other people than when they are on their own. Surprisingly this effect is not just true for people who consider themselves extroverts but equally strong for introverts as well.
The article goes on to make a point that I really agree with – our emphasis on self reliance even when it comes to happiness is causing us to ignore the very thing that will make us happy: other people. We push our children out, we push our elders away, when we become elders we proudly insist we don’t need to involve our kids. Long commutes and work hours make it hard to develop new friends when we are middle aged. Teens don’t get together any more – and I can attest to that one. While it certainly can be argued that unhappy people put less effort into social relationships and that is why they don’t have a good network of friends, I have also seen many examples of people who are depressed or anxious, but still part of a strong family or friendship network. It seems to me that people in that position have an easier time of it, because they have more support.
I’ve always found that I am happiest when I am part of a dense, full, social network of people who are physically present. I think that for the future, I am going to worry less about whether I should meditate or be mindful or surround myself with inspirational quotes, and instead focus more on keeping my relationships and building new ones.
Are you actively trying to build your social network, or do you think it really doesn’t matter?