I am fascinated by the research showing that happiness breeds success and have been sharing information with the students at the Yale School of Music on how to create life-long happiness. In my last post, we examined how to create the happiness habit by cultivating optimism. This week, I would like to share 3 happiness strategies that strengthen your ties to other people.
This brings me to the coaching groups that I run at the Yale School of Music.
One of my overarching objectives in forming these groups is to provide a supportive social community to help students manage their lives more effectively. I have also found that these groups can also contribute to helping the students cultivate the happiness habit.
This is especially true at this time of year when the students are incredibly busy auditioning for summer festivals, degree programs, orchestra openings—many of which require travel both nationally and internationally–while at the same time they are preparing for and giving their degree recitals, performing professionally, teaching, keeping up with school work, coping with injuries and generally trying to stay afloat.
A critical component of developing long-term happiness is having social support and deriving comfort and assistance from people with whom you have a strong relationship.
Happiness research psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky in her book, The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want, explains why social support is crucial to creating life-long happiness:
- You can acquire new information from having someone’s else’s point of view and resources;
- You experience emotional support by knowing that other people care about you; and
- You obtain tangible support like accountability, a buddy system, or even having someone to go to the gym with.
When I offered up the topic of cultivating more happiness to my groups, I received an overwhelmingly positive response! The members of the coaching group have relished having some new information about how to manage their stress and become happier while working on their goals (point 1). They experienced tremendous emotional support by sharing their stressful situations (point 2) and appreciated being able to set goals and action steps for which they were accountable to the group (point 3).
It is not surprise, therefore, that you can cultivate long-term happiness by strengthening your social support network. Here are 3 happiness strategies that resonated with my coaching groups:
- Nurturing Quality Relationships
- Expressing Gratitude
- Practicing Acts of Kindness
Let’s take a closer look at how these strategies can contribute to your life-long happiness.
Activity #1: Nurture Quality Relationships
Despite how busy everyone is, we agreed that you can’t practice your instrument all day! Many of our group members found that spending time with friends was critical to on-going happiness. Interestingly, happiness does not depend on having a huge circle of friends but rather meaningful and quality relationships.
While some members of the group felt somewhat guilty about taking time away from their work to be friends, they realized that after having these social encounters, they felt more energized and motivated to return to their work. And no wonder! As the research shows, cultivating quality relationships nurtures you over the long term and contributes to making you happier.
Here are a few tips for nurturing quality relationships:
- Make Time
Schedule in some time with your friends. Your relationships are important so make them a priority.
- Be mindful
Put away your iPhone and give your friends the attention that they deserve. After all, if you are thinking of how you should be practicing when you are spending time with friends, what’s the point of being with them?
- Communicate Effectively
Learn how to be a good listener and practice the LOCAV communication skills so that your friends know that you are paying attention to them. This is particularly important when you do not have a lot of time for social engagements. Make the most of the experience by becoming a good communicator!
- Express Appreciation
Another way to deepen your relationships is to express your appreciation for your friends and show them that you care. Research shows that for every negative thought or action, you need to counter it with 5 positive ones. So apply that to your friendships and romantic relationships: make it a point to increase the number of positive ways that you interact with your close friends for a ratio of 5 to 1.
Activity #2: Express Gratitude
Expressing gratitude is another happiness strategy that works because it cultivates a sense of wonder, thankfulness and appreciation for life.
It reminds you of the good things in your life. It generates positive emotions. It connects you to others. Expressing gratitude enables you to scan your day for positive experiences and it trains you to notice and focus on the possibilities and opportunities.
In our groups, our members expressed gratitude for many things in their lives including:
- Music and their musical talents
- Yale, with its incredible resources, rich learning opportunities and a beautiful campus
Here are a few ways to express gratitude.
- Write down 3 things for which you are grateful. Be sure to consider different aspects of your life, such as your professional development, your personal life, your health, your friends and your family.
- Keep a gratitude journal so that you can keep track of the things for which you are grateful. Be sure to change things up and be creative so that the exercise does not become rote.
- Express your gratitude out loud to someone.
In my coaching group, I always hear one person express gratitude to the group for being there, which is another way to nurture strong relationships (see Activity #1, above).
- A particularly strong way to practice gratitude is to thank someone who in the past has done something wonderful for you and whom you have never directly thanked. Perhaps one of your early teachers or mentors put you on the track on which you now find yourself. Reach out to that person to thank her for having such a strong and positive impact on your life.
Activity #3: Practice Acts of Kindness
Another great way to build social support is to practice selfless acts of kindness where you are not looking for any reward or payback and you do not “advertise” your generosity. Genuine service comes from the heart. It takes you outside of yourself, helps you gain perspective and boosts your self-esteem because you create an image of yourself as a selfless person.
In our groups, members shared acts of kindness ranging from making time for others, paying close attention when you are with a friend (both of which reinforce Activity #1), making music a positive experience for your colleagues, treating a friend to coffee, saying thank-you to the bus driver, leaving a nice tip to a server and helping an elderly person to cross the street.
As you can see, service can take the form of little gestures and does not involve spending a lot of time or money.
Interestingly, studies showed that this practice works best when you bunch up your activities in one day. So if you do 5 acts in one day and make it a habit to do this every week, it is more effective than if you do 5 acts of kindness over 5 days. Moreover, be sure to change up your activities so that they do not become rote.
So you now have 3 more ways to develop life-long happiness! Along the way, I am betting that you will experience a better quality of life, more self-esteem and probably more success. And if you are interested in reading the research for yourself, as well as learning all 12 happiness strategies, be sure to read The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want.