In his book The Happiness Advantage, Shawn Achor discusses the key factors that increase effectiveness and maximize personal potential. As his studies conducted at Harvard show, investing in our social support network is very important. Shawn, an advocate of positive psychology, considers this investment to be the main source of success and happiness.
This is the Editor’s Note that I wrote for 29th issue of Productive! Magazine. See, if you can improve your social support network and help others do so.
What is social support?
Social support is any social network that exists in a person’s environment. What makes it stand out from the others? Relationships established within this network, as well as the sense of belonging, can help its participants through difficult situations in life. A network like this can consist of friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, acquaintances, and sometimes members of interest groups, church, sports teams, etc.
These networks can include various types of support: emotional, informational (i.e., exchanging information, sharing experiences, etc.) and, of course, material. Now:
Why should we work on maintaining a support network?
It’s obvious… to be able to count on other people’s help and understanding in difficult moments. The importance of social support is stressed not only by Achor. Many other scientists have proven the same thing.
Simply being aware that there are people who will support us in need has a positive influence on our physical and mental well-being, as well as on our attitude towards life and health. Knowing that there is someone you can turn to and not be rejected or derided by is empowering.
Studies conducted back in 1992 have shown a higher mortality rate (in this case due to cardiac problems) in people who, for example, lived by themselves and didn’t have someone who could offer them social support.
Social support is also a vital element of stress research. As it turns out, a weak social support network increases the level of stress, whereas an optimal level of support helps reduce health-related effects of stress.
Moreover, a lack of social support and stressful life events are directly linked to symptoms of depression.
How to work on maintaining your social support network
Sometimes you can get the impression that everyone around you is happy, popular, and always surrounded by a group of friends. Very often this is caused by the effect of social media, where people try to act better and cooler than they really are. But the truth is that nearly all your friends will be happy if you call them or suggest a meeting. So, if there’s someone you want to get in touch with or renew contact with, don’t hesitate to do it. But remember − be sincere and natural.
You can also try to make new friends − sign up for a local sports club or gym, join an interest group or a group of people going through a similar life situation (e.g., young mothers, people affected by a specific problem, etc.). Take advantage of the Internet by joining forums, thematic groups on Facebook, or non-governmental/charity organizations.
If you want to maintain close and long-term relations with other people, remember that it all works both ways: usually, the better friend you are, the better friends people will be to you. Here are some tips:
Stay in contact − keep in touch with friends to know how they’re doing. Don’t reject meeting proposals without a good reason, pick up phones, and if you don’t have time to talk − call back later. Reply to emails, and take the initiative to offer joint activities.
Be authentic − people sense insincerity and unnatural behavior. When you engage in something, do it with all your heart; when you’re talking to someone − be honest.
Don’t treat your friends like rivals − enjoy their successes and forget about envy.
Listen − sometimes we all need to confide in someone. When you notice that someone wants to share a problem or joy with you, be open, listen carefully, and ask questions. Show genuine interest and involvement in the matter.
Appreciate − don’t be afraid to tell people that they’re important to you, what you like about them, or what you value in them.
Question: Do you have any other tips on maintaining relationships with others?
P.S. For more great articles and my interview with Simon Grabowski, grab your free copy of Productive! Magazine issue 29