Network, network, network. Adults in the business world certainly know how important it is to stay connected to their colleagues and peers if they are to have successful careers, but did you know that the number and strength of our social connections are also very important for happiness?
The upshot of 50 years of happiness research is that the quantity and quality of a person’s social connections—friendships, relationships with family members, closeness to neighbors, etc.—is so closely related to well-being and personal happiness the two can practically be equated. People with many friendships are less likely to experience sadness, loneliness, low self-esteem, and problems with eating and sleeping.
We live in a world where social media (like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, and text messaging) make it easier to be “connected” to loads of people all the time. Many of us also live in a society that values privacy and independence over proximity and interdependence. Americans dream of country homes where they can go days without seeing any neighbors. Setting aside that happiness can come from establishing our connection to nature and monk-like training retreats, physical isolation is a recipe for loneliness—a particularly potent form of sadness. When it comes to happiness, teaching our kids to value and foster proximity and connection is a much better bet than a house with a long gravel driveway.
Robert Putnam wrote an interesting book, Bowling Alone, about how we Americans are becoming less and less connected to one another. As a parent, it makes me think about how we spend our time: if our happiness is best predicted by the quantity and quality of our relationships with others, how can we foster lots of strong relationships between our family and our communities? I often feel so busy—sometimes too busy to spend time with my friends. But then I think about what I’m modeling there: if I’m too busy for my friends, what DO I have time for? Little is more important for our over-all well-being than our relationships with other people.
When it comes to fostering social connections in kids, I see three arenas for discussion and development.
The first is our family relationships—where it all starts—so in the coming weeks I’ll blog about the importance of establishing secure caregiver-child attachments. Social and emotional intelligence is critical for forming strong relationships, and the parent-child bond is a great place to teach the emotional literacy that will lead to social intelligence.
As kids get older, having the skills to negotiate and maintain relationships becomes important, and so I’ll also be blogging about teaching kids how to successfully resolve conflicts. You might also want to check out some previous posts about gratitude and forgiveness. Having the skills we need to forgive can make or break a relationship, and people who consciously practice expressing gratitude and appreciation have stronger relationships.
Finally, altruism—being kind to others, even strangers—creates deep and positive relationships, and so I’ll be blogging more about teaching kindness in coming weeks as a part of this series about fostering strong relationships.
Until then, please post your stories. Where have your kids created their strongest bonds? What skills do they have that serve them particularly well in this arena?
BY CHRISTINE CARTER | OCTOBER 31, 2008