Your Relationships are Pathways to Thriving

By James & Suzie Pawelski

Twenty-one years ago, while president of the American Psychological Association, Dr. Martin Seligman founded the field of positive psychology, the science of what makes individuals and communities thrive. Seligman identifies relationships as one of the five key pillars of happiness in his model of well-being. Called PERMA, Seligman’s model includes Positive emotions, Engagement, Relationships, Meaning, and Accomplishment. While each pillar is integral for a well-balanced life, thriving relationships appear to be the single most important determinant to happiness, according to research.

Social psychologist Chris Peterson, a colleague of Seligman's and another pioneer in the field, said you could sum up positive psychology in three words: "Other people matter."

Add Meaning to Life Experiences

Human beings are social beings. You wouldn't be here without the nurturing and contributions of fellow humans. Not only do you need other people to survive, you need other people to thrive.

Imagine for a moment how you feel when you have a sudden joy. And now think about how you feel when you share that joyous experience with a loved one. It's like compounded interest. Having close friends and loved ones to share your innermost experiences with can add even more meaning to a wonderful life. Research shows that thriving relationships have a powerful impact on your well-being. But, strong, healthy relationships take work, especially romantic ones. They don’t just magically happen, except in fairy tales and films. In real life, healthy habits are what lead to long-term love and happiness.

Small Practices for Greater Well-Being

To increase your overall individual and well-being, practice the following habits:

  • Be grateful for your blessings in your life. Focus on what you have, rather than what you lack. And it’s not enough to solely feel grateful to others, you need to express that gratitude. Do it regularly to experience upward spirals of positivity.
  • Spend a few minutes thinking about your relationships and the types of interactions you have with your friends and loved ones. Do you tend to complain and focus on problems? Or do you celebrate the joys and seek out opportunities to connect? Reflect on specific steps you can take to strengthen your bonds with others.
  • Focus on what is going right, rather than wrong in your life and the world. Good things happen five times more often than bad things on a daily basis, according to one research study. Remember to direct your attention to the good. Next, ask yourself what is the smallest thing you can do today to help grow more positivity into the world.
  • Identify and use your character strengths every day, and help your friends, family and significant other to do so as well. When you exercise your strengths on a daily basis you increase your individual well-being. And when you do so with your romantic partner you experience a greater bond and a greater level of intimacy.

Remember that happiness doesn't happen overnight. And it's not something you do once and achieve it. It's not a destination, but rather a journey. A lifelong practice of healthy habits. The good news is that the more you practice it, the better you get at improving your well-being.

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