To relate is to make or show a connection with someone. To develop a relationship reflects the way in which two people continue to connect through a state of being.
They are an art and as we all know too well, relationships are both challenging, difficult, rewarding and nourishing, all rolled into one!
So despite the ups and the downs with our loved ones, whether they be at work, at home or in our community, it’s interesting to understand: ‘how do they really affect our wellbeing?’
A recent report from the Office of National Statistics has analysed ‘our relationships’ using UK trend data from the last 3 years. It’s produced some fascinating insight which reaffirms the existing global academic consensus that relationships are not only positive but are indeed ‘vitally important to an individual’s well-being’ (ONS 2015).
So that’s great, we know relationships are good for us, but I personally would like to dive a little deeper and understand exactly how they improve our overall quality of life and happiness.
Let’s start by going back to Yoke Consultancy’s research and the previously discussed ‘Wellbeing Framework.’ Yoke Consultancy’s employee wellbeing analysis in Financial Services found that relationships play a central role to all 6 remaining domains of wellbeing and specifically have a ‘highly significant’ impact on ‘mental & emotional health’ and ‘physical health.’ Employees also realised their importance and ranked relationships as the third most critical element for overall wellbeing and life satisfaction. These results connect directly to the Office of National Statistics study, which found of this UK citizens who believed they had a ‘high life satisfaction,’ 84% of respondents also had ‘high relationship satisfaction’ (ONS 2015).
This beneficial impact can therefore be broken into two aspects:
- Improved mental and emotional wellbeing
According to Sarah Cassidy ‘loneliness is now as big a killer as smoking, obesity and alcohol.’ It’s a scary thought but as she explains further, with our increasingly hectic lives and general obsession with self ‘busy-ness’ we’re losing sight of the importance of relationships. This trend is both directly impacting our own longevity but also that of the older generations who are increasingly left ‘alone.’
As the New Economics Foundation advocates, ‘connecting with others’ is one of the best five ways to enhance wellbeing. However, although a recent study of 148 existing academic papers identified that people with ‘strong relationships were 50% less likely to die prematurely’ (University of Minnesota), this trend doesn’t simply reflect the notion of physical companionship. As the study further goes on to explore, stress is a normal part of life however your ability to bounce back from stress is what’s important. It subsequently found that those with higher resilience were those with a friend or family member who acted as a comforting buffer to both improve emotional health faster and reduce heighten blood pressure quicker, after completing the ‘stressful task’.
- Improved physical wellbeing
According to Gallup’s 2012 global study on wellbeing, those who were highly satisfied with their overall physical health were twice as likely not to feel isolated. Specifically people with good relationships had higher immunity; reflected in a 50% less chance of catching a cold, despite the exposure to germs that comes from frequent social contact. They also had a lower chance of becoming addicted to smoking and alcohol, and subsequently were less exposed to risks of obesity and other related diseases.
Collectively therefore relationships are good for our health and can help us life longer and be happier. And if you’re looking for a specific metric, apparently you can add 3 years to your life if you have a lovely life partner!
What can we do to improve our relationships?
Even if we’re happy with our lot there is always more we can do to improve our relationships. And if we’re in a space of loneliness and isolation it’s helpful to be brave by following the next three steps to greater fulfilment in our connections.
Step 1: ‘Understand your difficulties’
Be honest with yourself and write down what things you are currently struggling with and where they occur in your life.
As an example, it might be your demanding role at work, with the pressures of the office which are overwhelming.
Step 2: ‘Be Selective’
It may sound a bit crude but it is important to next ensure you are surrounded by positive and nourishing people within the environment you are struggling. With awareness identify the right people who you know will understand your challenges and support you with helpful to developing greater habits and behaviours of resilience.
Apparently over 30% of us found our best friend through the office (Gallup 2012)!
Step 3: ‘Book it in’
Time is the greatest nourishment for relationships so be organised and proactively book in time to deepen your connection with those others. It’s not just in times of crisis that we create relationships but also through the idle chit chat and small interactions.
As Kahneman and Krueger (2006) agree ‘the frequency of contact with others and the quality of personal relationships are crucial determinants to our wellbeing’ so let’s put the effort in!