By Katrina Calihan
“Other people matter,” as the late positive psychologist Chris Peterson used to say. How much of the richness in our lives comes from shared experiences and union with others? Are joyful moments as sweet without sharing them with someone we love? Do we accomplish more with the help of others’ hands and minds? Our search for answers to these questions reminds us of the importance in our relationships.
In fact, participating in positive relationships is a key pillar of our well-being. This extends beyond our one-on-one relationships; groups and communities contribute to well-being, too. Throughout history, people have relied on community for survival, and it turns out that group dynamics matter.
Through their research, biologists E. O. Wilson and David Sloan Wilson theorize that groups demonstrating cooperation and altruism out-competed more selfish groups, leading to a natural selection of altruistic groups. In modern society, people with strong social ties report less stress and higher well-being. Social support enables them to cope better with life’s struggles by way of the advice, affirmation, empathy and caring received from others, explains Peterson in his book, A Primer in Positive Psychology.
Social scientists James H. Fowler and Nicholas A. Christakis found that happiness extends out in geographically close communities up to three degrees of separation. If one happy person shares his or her positivity with a friend, that friend is likely to radiate happiness to the next person and so on. On the flip side, the same phenomenon exists with unhappiness – both are contagious. In this way, the well-being of one person may affect the well-being of the broader community.
We can’t control what happens to us in life, but we do have a choice in how we respond. How we show up for others and the energy we put out to the world matters; it is a social responsibility we all share. What do you want to radiate?
The bottom line is that your happiness is affected by the people with whom you surround yourself, and vice versa. If you surround yourself with happy people, it’s more likely you, too, will be happy.
How relationships affect our well-being is not just about individual happiness. Active involvement in communities helps us thrive by connecting us to others through our passions and interests, as well as through giving back.
In “Well-Being: The Five Essential Elements,” authors Tom Rath and Jim Harter explain that people who report high well-being share something in common – they make meaningful contributions to their communities that connect them to something larger than themselves. Giving back encourages us to be others-focused rather than preoccupied with ourselves.
The book highlights a survey of 23,000 participants, in which 90 percent reported feeling an emotional boost after doing kind acts for others. Donating money, offering time and sharing talents elevate well-being and make a generative contribution to the community.
The health of thriving communities is our shared responsibility. Imagine a world where everyone’s actions align with the truth that “other people matter.” Together, we can change the world one person and one community at a time. Put your best energy into the world. Give back. Watch what happens.
Katrina Calihan is a positive psychology expert, yogi and the founder of Point of Arrival, a well-being and leadership coaching and training company. Learn more about Katrina at www.point-of-arrival.com.