While relationships are a separate element of well-being, they’re also a big source of positive emotion and meaning.

According to Cindy Hazan, there are three kinds of love: the love of people who give us comfort, acceptance, and help (like parents), the love of people we give comfort, acceptance, and help to (like children), and romantic love, which involves idealizing the other’s strengths and virtues.

Healthy love is called “secure”: we’re comfortable getting close to someone and don’t worry about abandonment. It’s a state between dependence and independence. Unhealthy love is either avoidant – uncomfortable getting close, trusting, and being dependent on someone – or anxious – afraid of not being loved or not being close enough.


Happiness: Happiness and relationships are a virtuous circle: happier people have better relationships, and relationships make you happier. People in the top 10% of happiness have the most active social lives. The Harvard Men study found that social support predicts happiness much better than GPA, income, SAT scores, age, gender, or race. Marriage is a stronger factor for happiness than job satisfaction, finances, or community.

One of the reasons for this is that hedonic adaptation doesn’t apply as much to relationships. When we get money, we want more money; but when we get kids, we don’t keep wanting more kids to the same extent.

Of course, not all relationships are happy. People in bad marriages are less happy than divorced or single people. Partners will be happier to the extent that they have positive illusions of each other, which cause them to look on the bright side and try to live up to their partner’s idealistic illusion. People are also happier when they receive active, constructive responses to positive events from their partner, as opposed to passive or destructive.

Anti-depression: One study found that people with few social ties are two or three times more likely to suffer from major depression. Social support reduces stress by making things seem less stressful, combating the physical effects of stress, and helping us recover from stress faster.

Health: People with more social support are healthier and live longer.

Other traits: People with better social relationships are more resilient, accomplish more, and feel more purpose. Relationships also promote flow: the external stimulation helps engage us and provide shared goals to work toward. They can make us more creative: children playing closer to their mothers are more creative, as if love provides them a safe space to experiment. Relationships require effort and involve learning and sharing about our true selves.

Sources: Shawn Achor, The Happiness Advantage; Tal Ben-Shahar, Happier; Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, Flow; Sonja Lyubomirsky, The How of Happiness; Martin Seligman, Authentic Happiness and Flourish

Who studies it

Brené Brown (connection), Roy Baumeister (social rejection and belongingness), Jane Dutton (connections and relationships at work), Carol Dweck (interpersonal processes), Shelly Gable (close relationships), Adam Grant (prosocial giving and helping behaviors), John M. Gottman (marriage, divorce), Dacher Keltner (emotion and social interaction), Jonathan Robinson (relationships)


Jane Dutton, Energize Your Workplace: How to Create and Sustain High-Quality Connections at Work (2003)

Adam Grant, Give and Take: Why Helping Others Drives Our Success (2013)

John M. Gottman, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail: And How You Can Make Yours Last (2012), The Relationship Cure: A 5 Step Guide to Strengthening Your Marriage, Family, and Friendships (2002)


love, marriage, friendships, family

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