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The Strongest Predictor of Relationship Success

New research on love and positive energizers.

Key points

  • People who are most successful at relationships are positive energizers.
  • Positive energy builds on itself and is self-enhancing.
  • Anyone can learn to become a positive energizer.
Source: Jonathan Borba/Unsplash

What's the number one key to relationship success? New research suggests that there is one thing that is more powerful than attractiveness, personality, and charisma. It's positive relational energy: the energy exchanged between people that helps uplift, enthuse, and renew them.

You’ve met positive energizers. They’re like the sun. They walk into a room and uplift everyone. You feel energized, enthused, inspired, and connected. Other members of your network may be depleting: They leave you feeling de-energized, demoralized, diminished, and uninspired. You know the ones—they sap your energy every time: de-energizers.

To find out if you're a positive energizer, ask this key question.

When study participants were asked to look at people within their network, researchers observed that certain relationships within those networks are extraordinarily life-enhancing and uplifting. The researchers asked people this key question: “When I interact with this person [person X] in my organization, what happens to my energy?”

In other words, each person was asked to rate themselves on a scale from very positively energized to very de-energized when they interacted with another person. The data showed that there's usually one person at the center of the super productive and happy networks who’s responsible for most of the forward motion—not to mention well-being—of all the rest: positive energizers.

Anyone can learn to become a positive energizer.

You might wonder: How is it possible to always give out positive energy? Here's the secret. And it's not hard. In fact, anyone can learn it.

  1. An energizing approach to others acts as a continual energy-boosting mechanism, which, in turn, produces an abundance of energy in the whole network. Energizers’ greatest secret is that, by uplifting others through authentic, values-based leadership, they also uplift themselves. Positive energizers demonstrate and cultivate prosocial actions, including forgiveness, compassion, humility, kindness, trust, integrity, honesty, generosity, gratitude, authenticity, and recognition. As a result, their relationships flourish. And they do, too. Research shows that engaging in prosocial acts like compassion, for example, significantly boosts your well-being. Positive energy, however, is not the superficial demonstration of false positivity, like trying to think happy thoughts or turning a blind eye to the very real stresses and pressures. Rather, it is the active demonstration of values.
  2. Next, positive energizers know how to take care of themselves. You can't pour water from an empty cup. Positive energizers fill their cup so it can overflow. They engage in habits like exercise, healthy diet, meditation, time in nature, contemplation, community service, and gratitude—all the things that we know from positive psychology build well-being. Let this be an excuse for you to take time for self-care. Even if you feel you have no time, ask yourself how much time you waste every day. Fill that with nourishing, nurturing activities for your mind, body, and soul.

Here’s what differentiates positive relational energy from other forms of energy.

Physical energy diminishes with use. Running a marathon exhausts us. We need recuperation time. The same is true with the use of mental and emotional energy. We become fatigued and need to recover. The only kind of energy that doesn’t diminish but actually elevates with use is positive relational energy. We rarely get exhausted, for example, by being around people with whom we have loving, trusting, supportive relationships. Positive relational energy is self-enhancing.

What makes positively energizing people so successful at relationships?

There is a botanical term for these results: the heliotropic effect. That’s the phenomenon whereby plants naturally turn toward and grow in the presence of light. In nature, light is the life-giving force; photosynthesis occurs only in its presence. Human beings have the same inherent attraction toward life-giving and life-supporting energy. This form of energy is what you receive—and give—in relationships with others.

Decades of research show that this positive relational energy nourishes us and makes us come alive. For example, research by UC Irvine professor Sarah Pressman shows that the need for positive social connection is so great that the lack of it is worse for your health than smoking, obesity, or high blood pressure and reduces longevity. In contrast, positive social connection can not only lengthen our life, but it also can strengthen our immune system and lower rates of anxiety and depression. How's that for good news?

This post was inspired by an article Kim Cameron and I wrote for HBR.

Facebook/LinkedIn image: MAYA LAB/Shutterstock

References

Positively Energizing Leadership by Kim Cameron

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