One thing is absolutely clear: a key to happiness is having close relationships with other people. Everyone, even introverts, are happier when they interact with other people. People enjoy activities more when others are involved. Having lots of close relationships makes it far more likely that people describe themselves as “very happy.”
Despite this, a study showed that Americans today have fewer friends than they’ve had in the past, and they have fewer contacts from clubs and their neighborhoods.
One way I’ve found to strengthen my relationships – and to achieve many other happiness resolutions, as well – is to form or join groups.
For example, following my resolutions to “Be Gretchen,” “Bring people together,” “Make time for fun,” and “Show up,” I started a children’s literature reading group, which has been a great source of happiness. I joined an existing book group when I moved to New York City, and that’s another major source.
Being part of a group brings you closer to other people. You have a common activity to pursue. You have a shared interest in a subject or activity. Often groups provide “an atmosphere of growth,” because you’re learning something new (in a painting class) or pursuing a worthwhile activity (volunteering at a soup kitchen) together.
Also, studies show that group membership helps people feel connected and gives a real boost to satisfaction and personal confidence. It’s a way to interact with people who share your values.
A group can be a way to enjoy an activity you find fun. Did anyone see the episode of The Office where the Pam, Toby, and what’s-his-name formed the “Finer Things Club” so they could enjoy discussing literature and eating off real china at work? Fun sounds a bit frivolous, but research shows that regularly having fun is a key factor in having a happy life. People who have fun are twenty times more likely to be happy.
Joining or forming a group is also particularly useful if you want to create accountability for yourself. People join Alcoholics Anonymous and Weight Watchers, for example, to keep themselves accountable.
You can form a group around any challenge. A reader emailed me that she’s part of a “goals group” which meets every two weeks so members can track their progress and support each other “with inspiration, motivation, and fun.” A friend of mine was in a goals group made up of people who wanted to switch professions. Talking about goals, getting encouragement and advice, and reporting back to the group makes it easier to work toward a goal.
I hope that by joining the Happiness Project group on Facebook, people will feel inspired to create and follow their own Happiness Projects. An internet group isn’t as satisfying as a real, live group, but I think it’s still useful.
Now, a lot of people say, “I don’t have time to form or join a group.”
If you can’t meet once a month, how about every six weeks? Once a quarter? Semi-annually?
Or maybe you form a group that meets just one time. My father-in-law helped organize a dinner for a bunch of people to talk about fly-fishing. He had a lot of fun. Maybe the group will meet again someday, maybe not, but it was still enjoyable.
In fact, if you don’t have much time, I find that being part of an organized group is a very efficient way to strengthen relationships. Instead of having to take the initiative to see the group members individually, I know I’ll see them together.
Socializing individually is more intimate, but there are also benefits to socializing in a group. In the groups I’ve started or joined, different members have pulled in their friends, and through this, I’ve made new friends. In a phenomenon called “triadic closure,” people tend to befriend the friends of their friends – and this is very satisfying.
Friendships thrive on inter-connection, and it’s both energizing and comforting to feel that you’re building not just friendships, but a social network.
So ask yourself: what’s something that would bring you happiness?
Spending more time bird-watching? Quitting smoking? Studying the New Testament? Playing water polo? Switching jobs? Keeping your happiness-project resolutions?
Form or join a group around this subject. It will really make you happy.
One of the most thought-provoking books I've ever come across is Georges Polti's The Thirty-Six Dramatic Situations. He distills all plot into 36 situations. Most of the allusions are to French literature, and I've often thought that a fun thing to do would be to try to slot all my favorite books and movies into his categories.
I just discovered a site that lists the 36 situations (plus one), and also randomly generates one particular situation to help a writer overcome writer's block. Very cool. I'm not clear on the name of the site or who is responsible for it, so I'm sorry not to be giving credit to whoever did this.
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If you're starting your own happiness project, please join the Happiness Project Group on Facebook to swap ideas. It's easy; it's free.
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