On the Possibility of Happiness: Part 4, When Relationships are Hard to Come By

When you write about happiness you want to avoid saying stuff that is obvious but impractical. That is, we know a lot about the correlates of happiness but citing those correlates might not be helpful.

For example, we know that rich relationships are predictive of happiness. And you often hear recommendations along those lines at church: Get into relationship with others.

That's a fine thing to recommend but it can be frustrating and annoying to people who find themselves lonely or very introverted. Yes, relationships are key, but getting those relationships can be a bit of a trick.

So, three thoughts about this.

First, research suggests that if you have $15 you'll be happier treating a friend to coffee or a movie than buying something with it. When we are lonely we tend to buy stuff to get a little dopamine rush to crack our malaise. But if it is ever possible to take someone to coffee or lunch with that money then that is going to be the better option.

Second, if socializing is hard to come by think about volunteerism. Again, research suggests that the buzz you get from helping others is much more durable and long lasting than the hedonic stuff you while alone (e.g., watching TV, eating). If relationships are hard to come by find a place during the week where you can do something for others. Teach Sunday School, give an hour to the Food Bank, donate blood, or bake a cake and bring it in for the office.

Finally, get a pet. A dog or a cat that lives inside with you. The research is very clear on this. People who have pets, particularly people living alone, are less stressed, more healthy, less depressed, and less lonely. Now, I've known about this research for years but it never really dented my skull. But I get it now after having become a first time dog owner (as I've written about many times).

In short, yeah, relationships are great. But reminding people of that fact here or at church isn't very helpful. So, just a few very pragmatic suggestions for the times in life when relationships are hard to come by.

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5 thoughts on “On the Possibility of Happiness: Part 4, When Relationships are Hard to Come By”

  1. I can personally attest to the healing benefits of volunteering and serving when you're feeling really down and out. I think it helps so much because, for one thing, you get outside of your own head a little and see that you're not alone in your suffering. Secondly, it is very therapeutic to regain a sense of purpose, feel useful and needed...

    Pets -- the love they give us unconditionally, the companionship, and also the daily act of caring for another living thing which depends on us so much. I am learning how important pets are to kids :-)

  2. Thank you Dr. Beck!
    Being in the midst of a divorce and also NOT attending church (radically conflicting "obsessios" in both respective situations) your suggestions are greatly appreciated and very practical/doable.

    Gary Y.

  3. Being introverted is psychologically akin to being "snowed in," when icy roads make venturing out treacherous. Dogs are perfect introvert companions, though: loving, perceptive and uncritical.

  4. Let me add this about dog ownership. It's not a unmitigated good. I think choosing the proper breed is important.

    If you are a home-body, like I am, pick a smaller or laid back breed, a dog that is very happy just curling up on the couch with you. Or get at cat. Cats love just hanging out. If you are an active outdoor person, get a breed that needs exercise and can run, walk, hike or hunt with you. My take is that the personality of the dog and his/her fit with your personality and living situation (apartment, house, backyard, etc.) is more important than the look of the dog.

    Cat ownership is, I think, less complicated. Cat owners might want to weigh in on this point.

  5. Having had both, one downside of a cat is maintaining an indoor litter box. I'd rather scoop the mines from the backyard. Also, our indoor cat was prone to FUS, common to indoor cats, which requires special dietary considerations and much larger vet bills. Both the cat I had and our dog were rescued from animal shelters' "death row."

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