Happiness Club Key 2: Relating

In partnership with Action for Happiness, you are invited to join our countrywide, year-long happiness experiment. Psychologies editor Suzy Greaves has started her own Happiness Club and this time, the focus is on connection


Happiness Club Key 2: Relating

This month’s theme for Happiness Club is connecting more with others. I love it! I’m never happier than when I’m hanging out with people I know and love. However, I also adore getting to know new people, so my newly founded Happiness Club is working for me on all levels.

And I’m not alone. We’re getting some great feedback from our first Happiness Clubs up and down the country. It’s no surprise – research shows that people with strong and broad social relationships are happier, healthier and live longer. Close relationships with family and friends provide love, meaning, support, and increase our feelings of self-worth. Broader networks bring a sense of belonging. So taking action to strengthen our relationships and build connections is essential for happiness, say the positive psychology experts.

Unbelievably, not having close personal ties actually poses the same level of health risk as smoking or obesity. However, according to a recent study from Dickerson and Zoccola, having a network of social support appears to increase our immunity to infection, lower our risk of heart disease and also reduce mental decline as we get older.

Most important are our close, secure and supportive relationships – be those with our husband, wife, partner, relatives or friends. Research shows that it’s the quality of relationships that matters most. How do we increase the quality of our relationships? Experiencing positive emotions together – that is, having fun; being able to talk openly and feel understood, and giving and receiving support, say the experts at Action for Happiness.

How do you connect when feeling shy?

Not everyone finds connecting with others easy – especially if you’re shy. ‘Often what holds us back are feelings that we aren’t good, interesting, witty or important enough or that we’ll come across wrongly,’ says Vanessa King, positive psychology expert at Action for Happiness. ‘But these thoughts keep us in our own heads, focused on ourselves. When we want to connect with someone, perhaps spend a few seconds noticing something positive about the other person, which will enable us to take our attention off our own self-consciousness and worries, and switch our focus to the other person instead – psychologists call this priming.’ Making connections as we get older can be harder, King acknowledges, because we are all so much busier and have more settled lives. It can feel quite difficult to break into new social circles.

She encourages us to look into activities or events where we will connect with people who have a shared interest and also (importantly) where there’s opportunity to chat or even work on something together over a period of time.

‘There is nothing like a shared experience to help us build connections with others. It might be doing a course that runs over several weeks (perhaps even one that includes group projects), volunteering, a walking group, a knitting group, an activity holiday (I’ve made some good friends through taking a yoga holiday on my own), or doing something for the community. It may take a bit of courage to connect – but it’s worth it!’ says King.

One of our commitments for my Happiness Club this month is to book something fun for us to do outside our monthly meeting – something physical rather than cerebral, where we could try something new and have a laugh. Learning to climb and dancing have been mentioned. I will report back.

Action for happiness tips:

  • Make an intention to connect with a stranger once a week – be it smiling at someone in the street or chatting to someone in a shop.
  • Book a time to talk to the people you love. Be curious, ask lots of questions about what’s going on in their lives at the moment. Make an effort to really try to understand their thoughts, feelings, attitudes and past history. And share yours with them.
  • Book one activity to do this month with friends – be it a hike together, a bike ride or a grand day out.


Last time: Giving

At my first Happiness Club last month, my three new recruits and I were focusing on giving. We did everything from small acts, such as letting people in at the traffic lights, to more impactful events – such as arranging a painter and decorator to paint the spare room for Mum back home. How did we feel? Happy! What felt best was to change our focus and set an intention at the beginning of the day to be more giving – we felt less stressed driving, more peaceful at work, and more compassionate towards our partners and children. 

How to set up your Happiness Club

For more details on how to set up your own Happiness Club, see psychologies.co.uk/get-your-happiness-club-started. For video interviews with Mark Williamson, the director of Action for Happiness, and positive psychologist Vanessa King, and to see the highlights of the first ever Happiness Club meeting with Psychologies’ Suzy Greaves, click on: lifelabs.psychologies.co.uk/channels/154-the-happiness-club

The 10 keys of happiness

Photograph: iStock

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