If there’s one thing that the meteoric rise of social media has taught us — or more accurately, confirmed — and that is that we are social beings.
Decades of documented evidence has shown that our relationships with other people matter — and matter more than anything else.
When faced with unexpected challenges or threats, we are hard-wired to retreat into the safety of numbers, to gain strength from them, and persevere as a group.
Yet when the alarms sound, all too often we become blind to this reality and try to go it alone.
Sink or swim?
We don’t have to go through a personal crisis or to the brink of collapse to see how easy it can be to simply retreat into our own shells when faced with a challenge.
But science has demonstrated that it is these moments of high stress that we should, in-fact, be reaching out to others.
When faced with a problem and choose to go it alone, one of two things usually happen: Either we falter and fail, or we power through and get it done — but in the process, drain our energy reserves.
Most high-achieving people take the exact opposite approach. Instead of turning inward, they actually develop a tighter connection to their social network.
Consequently, not only are these folks more productive, energetic, engaged, and resilient — but they are also happier.
Relationships empower us
Back in our caveman days, like food and air, we needed social relationships to survive.
Today, we still need social relationships to thrive.
That’s because when we have people we can count on — whether they are a spouse, family, friends, or work colleagues — our capacity for physical, intellectual, and emotional work gets multiplied.
Tip: Growing new relationships should be a lifelong pursuit.
Positive relationships help us bounce back quicker from setbacks, accomplish more, and gain a greater sense of meaning in our life. Not to mention a boost in happiness that is both immediate and long-lasting.
Each positive social interaction sparks a connection in the moment; then, each of these single connections strengthen the relationship over time, which raises our happiness baseline permanently.
Takeaway: The more social support you have, the happier you are.
The happier you are, the more advantages you gain across every part of your life.
Not just in our heads
Turns out that our need to form social bonds is coded directly into our biology.
When we make a positive social connection, pleasure-inducing hormones are released, instantly alleviating anxiety and boosting concentration. They also bolsters our internal systems, so the more connections we make over time, the better our body functions — less illness, more energy, etc.
The reverse also applies: a lack of social contact can raise blood pressure, weaken the immune system, and foster feelings of depression.
Certainly no surprise, but social interaction is also a fantastic stress reliever. Not just for unwinding after work, but also small interactions during the day help a great deal to keep stress levels low all day long.
Each positive social interaction you have during the day helps to return your heart rate back to resting levels, a phenomenon often called work recovery. It also helps you recover from work-related stress quicker and builds you up to better deal with future stresses.
Connecting high performance
Researchers have found that social bonds aren’t just happiness boosters, they also boost occupational achievement and success.
We’ve all heard the “two heads are better than one,“ but the benefits of social interaction at work go much deeper than simple brainstorming.
People in the military commonly say of combat: “we fight for the guy standing next to us.”
Having colleagues we can count on for support at the office or elsewhere spurs our creativity and productivity — and most importantly, they motivate.
The better we feel about these relationships, the more effective we will be.
Tip: The enjoyment we get out of work is more about the people we work with, than the work itself.
Growing our social portfolio
Experts frequently tell us that the best way to grow our financial portfolios is to invest in quality ventures and then reinvest the dividends. The same goes for our social portfolios.
Not only should we invest in new relationships, but we should always be reinvesting in our current relationships.
Takeaway: Positive social relationships are the single most effective investment you can make.
And there certainly is no shortage of different techniques we can use to help foster new and deepen existing relationships.
To continue our financial portfolio example, expanding your social portfolio provides the diversification to ensure that you have a wide range of relationships to draw on.
And of course, deeper relationships provide the greatest return on your investment.
Tip: Living a mile wide and an inch deep won’t do nearly as much for you. The return is exponential; the deeper the relationship, the higher the return rate.
And interactions don’t need to be lengthy and involved, science has shown that something as simple as eye contact while passing someone in the hall triggers a sense of empathy and rapport.
Crisis not required
While times of crisis may seem like the only time people come together — and crises sure can teach us just how important social networks are — difficult times don’t need to be the only times.
There is an overwhelming wealth of evidence showing that our interpersonal relationships are the greatest predictor of both happiness and achievement — it shouldn’t take a crisis to bring us together.
Reaching full potential
Both at work and at home, the social support in our everyday lives can make or break our ability to reach our fullest potential.
So even if our knee-jerk reaction tries to turn us inward during difficult times, positive psychology demonstrates that reaching out is the smarter way to go — in both difficult times and every day life.
Study after study shows that people who invest in their social support systems are simply better equipped to thrive in even the most difficult situations.
Conversely, people who withdraw from those around them effectively cut off the best line of protection they have going — at the very moment they need it most.
Investing in your portfolio of social connections allows you to feel happier, live healthier, achieve more, and deal better with stress.
How will you grow your social network?
As always, start small and never stop improving.
To your success!
Achor, Shawn, The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work. New York: Broadway, 2010. Print.