In an interview conducted by the Harvard Business Review, Professor Daniel Gilbert discloses his findings on the science of happiness:
“If I had to summarize all the scientific literature on the causes of human happiness in one word, that word would be “social.” We are by far the most social species on Earth. Even ants have nothing on us. If I wanted to predict your happiness, and I could know only one thing about you, I wouldn’t want to know your gender, religion, health, or income. I’d want to know about your social network—about your friends and family and the strength of your bonds with them.”
For some of us this is a scary statement. We haven’t had an easy time relating to our families and we may find it challenging to relate to friends without some of the old hurts revisiting us. But facing the truth of our social being is an important part of deepening our reserves of joy. We need others and others need us.
What’s one thing you can do this week to connect in a more significant way with your friends and family and strengthen your bonds with them? I’d suggest first and foremost that you take time to listen to them carefully. Give them your full attention. Check out what you think is important to them and see if they affirm it. See if what you think you’re hearing from them is accurate. Demonstrate that you are invested in hearing them out. There’s a lot to the art of listening. We’ll explore it more in coming weeks, but for now consider how you listen. See if you can quiet your mind enough to offer your full attention to your friend or relative. Go slow. Hear them out to the end of what they want to say. Listen well and you’ll find yourself gaining new perspectives, new ideas about what’s going on for the other person, and perhaps new hope about your connection to them. Listen well first. It’s better than trying to entertain them or win their admiration. It’s kinder than teaching them a lesson. Resist thinking about what you’ll say next and stay in the moment with your friend. Listen long and hard. The benefits will become clear.