In this moment and time, declarations of individual responsibility are somewhat over-accentuated:” You are what you eat”, ” You are what you make of yourself”, ” You are the architect of your own life”. As if individual choices were at the heart of anything that happens to us. This is despite the fact that circumstances often shape our lives into what they are. Misfortunes such as illnesses, economic instability, traumas, adversities at work etc. would influence anyone’s wellbeing. It is not fair to say, that it is up to only ourselves to become happy.
Yet, life is short and hardly predetermined to be misery or bliss alone. How come some people seem to be content in their lives and some, maybe seemingly more fortunate, are not? When researchers have studied happiness, they have found some patterns in lifestyles, which correlate with life satisfaction. Regardless of background factors such as family structure, employment or overall health, the people who report highest life satisfaction are fairly active, engaging in social and physical activity regularly.
When it comes to public discussions about health and happiness, this physical activity is often highlighted. Everyone of us knows some guidelines that we could follow, to become more fit or physically healthy. The social activity part, though, is often forgotten. This is a problem, since according to the happiness studies, the importance of meaningful social connections is pivotal to our overall life satisfaction. And here is the happy news: There is something we can do about it! Taking stock of our social relationships, mapping it out on a sheet of paper or on a note on our phone, reveals us what sort of relationships we have. Who do we see regularly? What are those relationships like? And most importantly, which of those relationships are nurturing, inspiring or energising?
Thinking about the people in our lives usually reveals something we could work on, in order to make those relationships thrive. In the limited lifespan that we have, allocating time to the things that really matter to us, is essential for happiness. This we don’t often consciously think about. It would be worthwhile, though. There is an opportunity for growth in most of the relationships in our lives. Starting small but taking action is the key. Through recognising the aspects that give our lives meaning, we are able to point out the most significant people for us. It is through those relationships, that we become socially nourished and feel, that there is meaning to our existence. Thus, it is worth thinking out ways to deepen those relationships: Maybe carve out a bit more face-time for the inspiring people in your life? Set a regular date with the person you cherish but never prioritize? Show interest and send a message asking how an estranged loved one is doing?
Each relationship is unique and so are the means to improve it. Sometimes, all it takes is a realisation of the importance of meaningful, positive relationships in one’s life and a plan starts to formulate. Sometimes it is easier to identify those meaningful relationships and come up with a plan of action to work on them with someone impartial, like a therapist. Most situations in life can be improved, though. Taking small actions can have big consequences. These little steps are within reach for all of us.
The writer works as a solution focused therapist with Väestöliiton Terapiapalvelut.