By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD
It seems appropriate that since Mental Health Month Blog Party Day (courtesy of the American Psychological Association) falls in this week, I address the benefits of having healthy relationships. If I had to pick one area of focus to help people feel happier, that would be it.
Developing close connections is sometimes as easy as stepping out to enjoy a perfect spring day – you get to talk and laugh and generally enjoy each other’s company. But, at other times, it’s more like pulling on your boots and preparing yourself for a torrential downpour – you must sit with your friend through painful times or face conflicts between you.
While only you can know whether any particular relationship is worth the effort for you, there are many benefits that make forging close relationships worth it. Below are 8 reasons to find, nurture, and endure the ups and downs of relationships:
- Social support in life. It’s helpful to have people in your life who can offer their expertise to help you out. This might mean being a good listener, a wise life advisor, being handy with fix-it stuff around the house or being an expert negotiator (which can be extremely handy when you need to buy a new car). All of these types of support improve your quality of life. (Cohen, 2004)
- Help in becoming the person you want to be. Drigotas, Bubult, Wieselquist, and Whitton (1999) found that a loving partner who sees you more like the person you want to be will support you in a way that helps you become that person. Because your partner’s response to you can help shape the person you become, they named this the Michelangelo phenomenon. We know that parents have a similar effect on their young children. And, it seems reasonable that other emotionally intimate relationships can also have the same kind of effect.
- A ready opportunity to be caring toward others. You don’t need a scientific study to tell you that being altruistic can make you feel happy and view yourself in a positive light – though such studies certainly do exist to support this claim. Studies also show that altruism creates a sense of calm and reduces stress.
Fun and fulfillment. Doing things you enjoy is a wonderful way to spend your time – and having friends to share these experiences with can make them all the more fun and meaningful.
- A sense of being part of something bigger than yourself. People have an inborn need to feel a sense of belonging. And, when people meet this need, they gain a sense of well-being. As part of a network of friends or a more formalized group, you can meet this need.
- Reduced Stress. Social relationships relieve stress through the many ways in which they are a support and help people to feel good. Although feeling less stressed is positive in itself, reducing stress is also important because stress can cause problems with coronary arteries, insulin regulation, and the immune system.
- Better health. Not only do people’s relationships have a directly positive effect upon people’s health (such as with stress reduction), they also influence people’s health behaviors. For instance, spouses and other loved ones often actively encourage exercising, eating a healthy diet, and following up with medical issues. So, not surprisingly, people with emotional support tend to recover better and be less susceptible to illness or disease than those who are more alone.
- Longer life. People who have strong social ties are much more likely to live longer than those who are more isolated. Holt-Lunstad, the lead author of a study (2010) that reviewed and analyzed research in this area, noted, “A lack of social relationships was equivalent to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day.”
So, with Mental Health Month Blog Party Day in mind, my advice is to take advantage of all these benefits by strengthening your relationships.
The Art of Relationships blog posts are for general educational purposes only. They may or may not be relevant for your particular situation; and they should not be relied upon as a substitute for individual professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. If you need help for an emotional or behavioral problem, please seek the assistance of a psychologist or other qualified mental health professional.