The importance of taking care of our relationships
The powerful effect of having positive and healthy close relationships is very often undervalued.
This can be true especially for young adults working hard in big and international cities, that are often only temporary homes where people come and go, making it very difficult to cultivate close relationships over time. Let’s add work, stress, distances, little free time… and social networks and online dating that sometimes may give people the utopian feeling of being hyper connected with a large amount of people.
But in reality how many of these connections are effectively supportive and close relationships?
In the last century, an increasing number of psychologists and scientists have highlighted the importance of healthy relationships in our well-being: from the development of our personality and identity to its positive effect in mediating the impact of stress and trauma.
Recently, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger found interesting results about relationships from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a longitudinal study that surveyed the life of around 700 participants during a period of 75 years. Researchers kept track of important variables like the participant's physical health, quality of their marriages, work satisfaction and social activities.
In this research they found out that the element that impacted the most on the participant's health and happiness was the perception of having good quality relationships.
Indeed people having positive relationships with friends, family or the community tended to be happier, healthier and to live longer. Secondly, it is the quality of the relationships that matters for people over 30, not the quantity: unhappy married couples described themselves as less happy than people who were not married at all.
Another research study carried out by Katerina Johnson’s group found out that pain tolerance seems to be linked to social network size. Having a good and supportive social network may be linked to the production of endorphins in our brain, helping us to better tolerate pain.
These results highlight the importance of taking care of our relationships, of nurturing and cultivating them, as when they are positive and supportive they can be so beneficial for our wellbeing.
As their positive impact can be so powerful, unfortunately their negative impact can be as intense.
If you feel that you are having troubles in your relationships and you would like to understand better what is preventing you to fully benefit from your social network, you may consider talking it through with a counsellor or a psychotherapist.
Johnson K., Dunbar R; “Pain tolerance predicts human social network size”. Scientific Report 6: 25267, 2016.
Lewis T; “A Harvard psychiatrist says 3 things are the secret to real happiness”, 2015.