People as the Ingredient for Happiness

By Allycia Susanti

Published: July 30, 2022 | https://doi.org/10.52377/ADRZ2106

The need for human connection is not only essential but also universal.

Allycia Susanti ✉️, School of Psychology. College of Arts, Social Sciences and Celtic Studies. National University of Ireland, Galway. University Road, Galway. 

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Introduction

Happiness is defined as “the experience of joy, contentment, or positive well-being, combined with a sense that one’s life is good, meaningful, and worthwhile” (Lyubormirsky, 2007, p. 32) and positive psychology studies how humans have always strived to achieve it. Positive psychology, a relatively new discipline of psychological science created by Martin E. P. Seligman in 1998, is concerned with human flourishing and how to achieve it, ultimately studying the processes and conditions that contribute to achieving one’s optimum state (Gable & Haidt, 2005). However, happiness can be associated with a number of different things by different people. Some people associate happiness with things such as wealth, beauty, prestige, aesthetics, and power, whereas others associate happiness with things that are generally considered more profound and long-lasting such as social connections and living a fulfilling life (Compton & Hoffman, 2019). Happiness can also be achieved by many ways. One of the ways to achieve this is by cultivating positive relationships and having social support that can ultimately provide an encouraging, supportive, and constructive companionship for people, and in turn contribute to their happiness. For example, friendships can provide us with the support and safety of alliance when family fails to do so, and this can help children establish positive traits such as security and determination (Roffey, 2012).

This topic was chosen because of its distinction from other paths to happiness. For example, other paths such as religion and spirituality affects only the person who practises it. However, achieving happiness by cultivating positive relationships and having social support can provide different results. Immediate improvement in happiness can be experienced by all parties involved due to its interpersonal attributes (Hitokoto & Uchida, 2015), and positive impacts from other predictors of happiness can also be shared if there is an established rapport or relationship. This essay therefore aims to explore how social support can positively impact one’s well-being and cultivate more happiness. In addition, interventions relating to the impact of social support and relationships will be explored.

 

Social Support, Supports

The first predictor of happiness that will be explored in this paper is social support since its presence has been proven to be a significant predictor in happiness (Xin, 2001). Social support is defined as the presence of companionship and the support it provides before, during, and after a stressful event, and has a significant impact on one’s happiness and well-being (Ganster & Victor, 1988). Companionship is defined by Sullivan (1953) as the state in which one can rely on others for intimacy and social needs, and well-being is defined as the state where “individuals have the psychological,  social  and  physical resources they need to meet a particular psychological, social and/or physical challenge” (Dodge et al., 2012). There is a positive correlation between the existence of social support and positive mood state on the day after experiencing a stressful event, as proven by a study done by Caspi et al. (1987) involving 96 female respondents from an urban community. Neighbourhood quality and stressful life events were studied in relation to the role that social support plays in buffering their negative effects. In short, social support has been proven to have a positive impact on a person’s mental health, which in turn encourages well-being and happiness (Compton & Hoffman, 2019).

          In addition, a social support intervention study was done by Constantino, Kim and Crane (2005) involving 24 female first-time residents of a domestic violence shelter for abused women. The women were 28 to 43 years of age, and of various races, marital statuses, employment statuses, income ranges, and academic backgrounds. The women were first separated into two groups: the Social Support Intervention (SSI) group and the No Treatment Control (NTC) group. The women in the Social Support Intervention group were given resources, information, and the opportunity to speak about their struggles with counsellors and friends in addition to basic services such as meals, transportation to work, accommodation, and social service appointments, whereas the women in the NTC group were merely gathered in a room and given the chance to speak to each other without any structure in addition to the basic services. The intervention was carried in the form of 90-minute sessions, once every week for a total of eight weeks. There was a significant difference between the Social Support Intervention group and the No Treatment Control group by the end of the intervention. There were a lot less stress-related and health-related issues reported by the women in the Social Support Intervention group as opposed to the No Treatment Control group. In other words, traumatic events such as domestic abuse could be less stressful and debilitating when the victims are able to perceive the availability of social support (Cohen & Hoberman, 1983).

          However, there were still setbacks to this intervention in this specific case. For example, some women were unable to follow through the intervention until the end because of the limited time they had to stay in the shelter, altered living conditions, and issues with childcare. Understanding the benefits of the intervention and the willingness to follow through with the intervention are needed to achieve more conclusive and satisfactory results (Friedland & McColl, 1992). In addition, this intervention can only be applied to people who are willing to actively disclose their traumatic experiences, since a support system would not be helpful unless they are made aware of the issue (Mattanah et al., 2010).

 

People Need People

Other than social support, friendships and romantic relationships are also significant predictors of an individual’s happiness (Demir, 2010). Friendships, defined as mutually enjoyable relationships that provide the individuals involved with socio-emotional needs such as intimacy, companionship, and validation (Fiori & Denckla, 2015), are one of the most critical predictors of happiness (Frederick & Zhang, 2021). Numerous works of literature depict how friendships can influence one’s well-being. For example, the friendship that blooms in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone (Rowling, 1997) is the same friendship that motivated the three adolescent main characters to defeat the main villain together. It is also because of that same friendship that Harry Potter, was able to overcome his childhood trauma involving an abusive family, and eventually successfully integrated himself into a new environment filled with new people and responsibilities (Mik, Olechowska & Deacy, 1997). This example serves as evidence of the connection between positive friendships and flourishing, and how a person’s capacity for friendship and positive relationships can be cultivated from a young age (Compton & Hoffman, 2019).

           Additionally, a study by Holder and Coleman (2009) involving 432 children from ages 9 to 12 years and their parents found that family demographic variables such as number of siblings, marital status of parents, and ages of parents are not strongly correlated with a child’s happiness. On the other hand, the ability for children to perceive their parental figures as their friends and the quality of emotional support provided by their parents are crucial predictors of their happiness (Holder & Coleman, 2009). In addition, a longitudinal population-based study done by Cacioppo et al. (2008) involving 229 middle-aged people from 50 to 68 years of age concluded that having friendships, even at a later age, significantly decreases feelings of loneliness, which in turn increases happiness. In conclusion, “satisfaction with social relationships is the most robust predictor of happiness in this particular age group, and that the effects of this satisfaction clearly go beyond stress buffering” (Fiori & Denckla, 2015, p. 142).

          Other than friendships, mutually satisfying romantic relationships can also predict happiness (Demir, 2010). A study done by Londero-Santos et al. in 2021, it was concluded that neither relationship status nor relationship length greatly affects subjective well-being (SWB), whereas relationship satisfaction does. In total, 490 adult participants of different relationship statuses, ages, numbers of children, and academic backgrounds were asked to respond to a questionnaire to measure their relationship satisfaction and subjective well-being. As a result, relationship satisfaction was found to be the greatest predictor of subjective well-being, followed by personality which contributes to life satisfaction. Therefore, one’s personal relationships can be a determinant for their happiness; thus, it is important to cultivate satisfactory and healthy relationships (Londero-Santos et al., 2021).

 

Mutualism in Practice

To strengthen the statement that social support and relationships are significant predictors of happiness, another study was examined in addition to those previously mentioned. An intervention to enhance social relationships with the aim of improving relationship satisfaction (which in turn would promote happiness) was done by O’Connell et al. in 2014. In this intervention, 225 participants of different genders, ethnicities, relationship statuses, and ages ranging from 18 to 66 years were recruited to participate in a randomised longitudinal trial. A total of 85 participants were allocated to relationship-focused activity, 95 were allocated to self-focused activity, and 45 were allocated to control activity. The relationship-focused activity involved committing an act of gratitude or kindness such as writing a positive letter to someone in the participant’s social network to express praise or gratitude. The self-focused activity involved committing an act of kindness to oneself such as expressing praise towards something the participant is grateful of regarding themselves. Lastly, the control activity involved listing three random things that occurred over the course of a day and reflecting upon them.

          Following the activities, participant happiness was measured using the Subjective Happiness Scale (SHS) on a 7-point scale system ranging from one (less happy) to seven (considerably happier). This part consisted of four items. Perceived availability of social support was measured using the Medical Outcomes Study Social Support Survey (MOSS), and this social support survey involved 18 questions about the kinds of perceived social support in which participants are asked to answer by rating the items from one (none of the time) to five (all the time). Overall relationship satisfaction was also measured using a five-point Likert scale in which participants are asked to rate their own relationship satisfaction from one (not at all satisfied) to five (extremely satisfied) before and after the intervention.

          It was concluded that the act of giving and receiving kind actions and words of affirmation strengthens one’s personal relationships (Furman & Rose, 2015), which in turn promotes happiness (Myers, 2000). In addition, participants belonging to the relationship-focused group showed the greatest improvement in happiness scores, followed by the participants belonging to the self-focused group, and lastly, the participants belonging to the control group (O’Connell et al., 2015). 

          However, the intervention was not without flaw. Because the participants were asked to consistently complete the assigned activities every other day for one week, more than half of all the participants were unable to fulfil this requirement and follow through the intervention until the end. This shows that to achieve actual success, one must be able to commit to the intervention for an extended period of time (O’Connell et al., 2015). From this, it may be concluded that cultivating strong and positive relationships can be difficult and requires much time and effort (Davidson & James, 2006).

 

Conclusion

Studies and interventions regarding the importance of having personal connections with others and how it affects happiness undoubtedly still need to be improved and conducted more comprehensively considering the limitations of the studies presented here. However, the same studies also show that personal relationships have a significant impact on happiness. It is not enough for these connections to only be established; they also need to be maintained with time and effort. For example, a friendship will not necessarily make those involved happier unless they are determined to nurture and shape the friendship into one that is mutually beneficial and nurturing for all the parties involved. Additionally, time is needed to achieve success with interventions that aim to cultivate happiness. Even though social support and personal relationships are essential for healing from stressful life events and trauma, time is still needed to achieve the desired results (Constantino, Kim and Crane, 2005). 

          Overall, the studies by Cacioppo et al. (2008) and Londero-Santos et al. (2021) demonstrate that personal relationships such as friendships and romantic relationships, when cultivated and nurtured, can become a form of support system that can help people navigate through stressful, traumatic life events and reduce loneliness, thus contributing to their happiness and subjective well-being. The intervention done by O’Connell et al. (2016) also conclude that cultivating positive relationships with others that can offer critical emotional encouragement can greatly contribute to the happiness of the people involved compared to only receiving self-encouragement, or none at all. The study conducted by Constantino, Kim and Crane (2005) has also shown how social support and its perceived availability can contribute to wellbeing by lessening stress-related and health-related issues. The same effects of the studies are applicable to people of various ages, genders, relationship and marital statuses, employment statuses, educational backgrounds, ethnicities, and locations, which show that the need for human connection is not only essential but also universal.

 

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