We are social beings. No matter if you are an introvert or an extrovert; we all have the need to connect with others. We are born in families, live in communities and help each other to overcome obstacles. According to the Science of Happiness course by UC Berkeley, we are “ultrasocial” beings who not only care for our own offspring but also for others in need through empathy, generosity, and cooperation. In this article, we are going to discuss how our social relationships affect our happiness and well-being.

Meaningful social connections give us the necessary support and the feeling of belonging, especially during difficult times. Brene Brown, an international bestselling author, affirms that it is the human connection that gives us meaning and purpose in life. So, how does our social life influence our level of happiness and well-being?

Hug by RayMorris1

Social Connections and Happiness

Latest research indicates that very happy people tend to have rich and satisfying relationships and spend little time alone relative to people with average levels of happiness. Social connections are necessary but not sufficient for a happy life.

A study by Matt Leiberman and Naomi Eisenberger from UCLA has shown that when people are actively excluded from a game, the region of the brain that is associated with physical pain lights up. Social exclusion is a painful experience, which is linked to reduction of immune response and difficulty of sleeping.

Happiness is more than just feeling good or having positive emotions. It is also our ability to deal with challenges of life, to belong to a community and most importantly to perceive life as meaningful.

A recent research by Dan Kahneman from Princeton, shows that intimate relationships and socialising were the first two activities which are associated with positive emotions. Socialising definitely is a part of living a happy life. When was the last time you caught up with your friends?

Benefits of Touch

Free hugs by Jesslee Cuizon

Touch is an essential part of our communication especially in showing compassion and love. Recent studies show many physical and emotional health benefits of touch.

According to neuroscientist Edmund Rolls, touch activates the brain’s orbitofrontal cortex, which is linked to feelings of reward and compassion. Touch signals safety and trust and it activates the vagus nerve, linked to compassion. Touch can trigger release of oxytocin “the love hormone”. Dacher Keltner from UC Berkeley, states that eye contact and pat on the back from a doctor can boost survival rates of patients with complex diseases and massage therapy reduces pain in pregnant women and lessens prenatal depression. Moreover, appropriate touch by teachers resulted higher class participation among students.

A study by psychologist Sydney Jourard, who observed people having conversations in cafes in different part of the world, found out that two friends in England touch each other zero times, in the US twice, in France 110 times and in Costa Rica 180 times in one hour. I recently lived in Bali for 3 months and one of the norms among the expat community was to give hugs to each other rather than handshakes. This behaviour created a safe and trusting environment and made it easier to connect and cultivate social relationships.  It seems like social connections and the way we cultivate and foster them play a major role in our happiness and well-being.

Diener, E., Seligman M.(2002), Very happy people, American Psychological Society
Keltner, D.(2010),Hands on Research: The Science of Touch, [online] http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/hands_on_research
Klein, L (2013), Scratch a Happy Adult, Find a Socially Conncected Childhood, [online], http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/scratch_a_happy_adult_find_a_socially_connected_childhood