Social fitness is the biggest predictor of a happy life. Here’s how to improve yours

Social fitness is the biggest predictor of a happy life. Here’s how to improve yours

There are few stronger findings in the psychology, or positive psychology research than those pointing towards positive relationships being key to happiness (and health and longevity).

In fact, it’s highly likely that relationships and connectedness are the most important factors that determine happiness and life satisfaction.

One way of describing this happiness boosting factor is “social fitness” and if you’re interested in increasing yours then read on …

via Science Focus by Kelly Oakes

Dr Gillian Sandstrom was at the opera when she realised how good she had become at talking to strangers. A woman with Parkinson’s was feeling anxious and needed an aisle seat and when Sandstrom noticed what was happening, she asked a whole row of people to move along to make room for the woman and her husband.

“As the couple moved past me the husband said, ‘Thank you so much, I could never have done that,’ and I thought to myself, ‘past-Gillian couldn’t have done that either’,” she says. “But now, it’s not a big deal.”

For Sandstrom, a senior lecturer in the psychology of kindness at the University of Sussex, talking to strangers didn’t always come naturally. But her research looks at the benefits of those small, day-to-day interactions and so, over the course of her career, she has had plenty of practice.

Now, it’s a skill she’s glad she cultivated. “I would feel like a hypocrite if I didn’t talk to strangers, so I do it a lot,” she says. “The biggest benefit is I’m just not nervous about other people anymore.”

What exactly is social fitness?

We all know that a balanced diet and exercise are important parts of staying healthy. But a growing body of research is showing that there’s another factor that’s even more important for keeping us in good shape, both physically and mentally: our social connection.

A landmark study published in 2010 found that the quality of someone’s relationships is a bigger predictor of early death than obesity and physical inactivity, and on a par with smoking and alcohol consumption.

“The size of these effects really can’t be overstated, they’re enormous,” says Tegan Cruwys, an associate professor and clinical psychologist at the Australian National University.

Of course, it isn’t just our physical health that suffers from lack of social connections. Other research shows that having a strong romantic relationship leads to better mental health and that feeling connected to others decreases symptoms of depression, mitigates symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder and improves overall mental health.

But while we might have reluctantly come to accept that a regular physical fitness regime is required to maintain a healthy body, it can be easy to sink into the assumption that our relationships will maintain themselves.

Research shows that that’s not true: we should all be thinking as much about social fitness as we do about physical fitness…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE