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The Secret to Happiness is Healthy Relationships

There's an easy way to ensure that you handle stress, worry, and anger better.

Gallup recently released their 2019 Global Emotions Report—and Americans’ Negative Experience Index hit an all-time high. Here in America, our youngest citizens, those 15 to 29, were more likely to feel anger than any other age group—a third of this group felt a lot of anger. The most stressed and worried are those 30 to 49. Even during the strong economy that we’ve been experiencing, our Negative Experience Index has increased. While things may seem to be getting better, the individual news feeds that each of us might be receiving can pay a significant role in our emotional well-being.

What Causes Anger?

Anger is an emotion that is typically tied to feelings of inequity or mistreatment by another. It’s often driven by feelings that someone has tried to take advantage of you or tired to control your behavior. It’s a reaction to lack of access or your will being disregarded. Whether it’s someone taking the parking space you marked “dibs on” when you shoveled it out of the snow or seeing your job being downsized or moved to a different geographical region, or someone else getting the last box of your favorite cereal at the grocery store. When resources are scarce or our desires are blocked, anger is the result.

In the US, and around the globe, the internet and social media may have decreased the metaphorical distances between people and nations, but they also have made much more visible the discrepancies between the “haves and the have nots.” This sense of inequity in resources can be a driver of discontent and anger, too.

Not only that, but as we are made more aware of the indiscretions or misdeed of leaders of countries, or hear about big businesses taking advantage of employees or customers, average people, like us, may feel something akin to victimization and righteous anger.

Road rage is an example—someone cuts in front of you and your immediate reaction might be to ride their bumper just to show them your displeasure. While we’re all taught to “share the road,” when we think someone is taking advantage of us or cutting us out of our piece of the road, the altruism that is encouraged is quickly replaced by greed for the lane or parking space we felt we deserved.

Air rage is another example—research shows that when economy class passengers have to board the front of the plane and walk through first class on the way to the economy cabin, the chance of an incident of “air rage” is multiplied. When we see other people enjoying a special treatment that we might want for ourselves, but cannot access, we respond with anger and frustration.

Gallup’s “Macro-Level” and “Micro-Level” Predictors

The recent Gallup poll suggested that there are several items that contribute to the discontent of a country’s population. These “macro-level qualities” include freedom, trust in business, trust in the government, and the generosity of its citizens. The “micro-level qualities” are the most predictive of a person’s happiness, though. These are income, health/life expectancy, and supportive persons in one’s life. It turns out that social support is THE key component that can really make or break our sense of happiness in life.

Social Support is Essential to Successful Living, Like It or Not

When we think about how the first civilizations came into being, we realize that without cooperation and collaboration among individuals could a shared community and civilization develop. Humans are genetically programmed to seek out social connections. Without building alliances and social ties, our most prehistoric ancestors would never have survived against the massive beasts and predators that they faced.

Social connections give meaning to our lives, as well. Humans need to feel that they matter to someone and that their presence is welcomed and sought. If you think about how people define themselves, it is often by the roles they hold—dad, sister, mother, daughter, brother, husband, and so on. Our lives are built on the relationships we create.

Not only is social support important to our own sense of self-worth and to our identity, but it is also the salve we seek when we meet with less than satisfying events. Our friends and family give us space where we can let go of our anger or hurt through the sharing of our concerns and disappointments. There’s an old saying that counselors keep close to their hearts, “A burden shared is a burden halved.” When we need to heal our emotional wounds, our social support system jumps into action and helps us cope.

Not only do social support systems let us share our problems, but they also have a tendency to help us realize that there are more important things than our own frustrations or anger. They keep us other-focused.

When a person is missing a healthy social support system, frustrations and anger can be magnified in their minds; they have time to ruminate and obsess about their anger which can lead to unpleasant consequences, including depression and an even greater sense of isolation.

While today’s young adults are considered the most connected generation in history, they are also the loneliest generation in history. Without making time for building close social relationships, people suffer the hazards of loneliness that include increased health risks as well as mental health risks. Without healthy social support systems in place, coping with the daily hassles of life becomes increasingly difficult.

Does Money Buy Happiness?

Many of us imagine that a fat bank account will lead to a life free of care or troubles, but it’s not that easy. Great wealth can’t protect us from the real risks of life that all humans must face, such as health issues, heartbreaks, or personal loss. Previous Gallup polls have found that the closer your income is to around $75K o $100K, the “happier” people tend to be. However, once incomes crest that $100K mark, happiness tends to be harder to find—when earnings reach that threshold, you “assume” you should be happier than you are because you “assume” that others are happier than you.

While it’s not great wealth that brings happiness, happiness is indeed tied to having an income adequate to cover the basic necessities in life. Being able to afford shelter, healthy food, and other basic needs is a big factor in a person’s sense of satisfaction in life. While many of us may long for big-ticket “toys” or possessions, being able to acquire them won’t move our “happiness needle” as much as we think they might. The happiness of “things” is much more fleeting than we realize.

The Secret is Relationships

When it comes down to it, social support and a sense of belonging and mattering to others are much more predictive of our overall happiness in life than our bank book. Living the good life is more about who’s sharing the journey with you, not which row on the airplane your seat is located.



More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.
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More from Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.

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