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An Introduction to Happiness: Relationships

Over the last few weeks, I have been sharing this idea of being happy at work. Why? Because when you ask the members of Generation Z (the next generation coming into the workforce) what they value most in life, most have a simple answer: Happiness. Happy people are “12% more productive” than those who aren’t, according to a comprehensive study from the University of Warwick.

This week, I’m pursuing the idea that strong, healthy relationships help people be happier.

Let’s dig into two different types of relationships: friends and family outside of work and our coworkers. Knowing that the two overlap, let’s put them in those buckets for the time being and dig in to the importance of both.

Strong Relationships Outside of Work Lead to Happiness

Most of us know how important relationships are to our lives outside of work. It’s why we crave meals with friends, a partner to do life alongside, and people to call when things are good or tough. Studies show how much we need community for our happiness and health:

  • This study out of the University of Michigan found that friendship alonewas seen to be a solid predictor of positive overall health at later ages.
  • This study (my personal favorite), from the Harvard Medical School, had the same findings: “Researchers were expecting that factors like cholesterol levels or physical activity would be the greatest predictors of a long and happy life. They weren’t. It turns out that having strong personal connections with other people is most directly correlated to overall happiness, better health, and more contentment.”

Strong Relationships At Work Lead to Happiness

OfficeVibe, which is a tool that allows managers to understand how their team feels about work, found that 70 percent of employees say that friends at work are the most crucial element to a happy working life. As seen in the chart below, 58 percent of men and 74 percent of women report that they would refuse a higher-paying job if it meant not getting along with co-workers.

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Not only are people happier, but Gallup research found that those who have strong work relationships are more engaged, produce higher-quality work and have a higher state of well being.

Building and Keeping Friendships is Hard

Speaking from experience, friendships are hard to maintain.

Outside of work, especially as we grow our families and careers, time and energy levels become an issue. I remember talking to my counselor a few years back about how things just felt hard. I told her how I was trying to make sure I had a great relationship with my wife, be a solid dad, grow the GAN community, build our venture capital fund, support my team, and come alongside our members — all while keeping strong friendships along the way. It seemed impossible.

Her response — it is impossible. She called it “your 30’s.” My closest friends call it “the valley of diapers.”

Many studies prove this point. People often start losing friends in their mid-20’s and don’t start regaining friends until they’re close to 40.

At work, keeping friends can be difficult. You may be a boss or manager and not feel the freedom to have “friendships” at work. Or, you may not jive with your colleagues.

So, what do we do about making (and keeping friends)?

I know that for various stages of life there are different types of friendships we could have. Yet, for the purposes of this blog, I’m writing for the person who is currently 25–45. Here’s how I’m thinking about making and keeping friends:

Outside of work —

  1. Staying off social media. Want to hear something crappy? Between 1991 and 2016, a survey went out to 8th, 10th, and 12th-grade students to understand their psychological well-being. In 2012 there was a sharp drop in the students’ happiness, in parallel with increased electronic communication and activities. The study found that adolescents who spent more time doing screen-based activities and less time doing non-screen activities had lower psychological well-being.
  2. Setting goals for friendships. Every year, I evaluate who I spend the most time with and make goals for the types of people I want to surround myself with. My wife and I also have a “partner meeting” each week during which we go over all aspects of our lives. One question we ask ourselves is “who are spending time with over the next month.”
  3. Pursuing hobbies. When Evite surveyed 2,000 people about why they struggle to make new friends (half of the respondents said they haven’t made a new friend in five years!), 29% of people said it was because of family demands and 28% said it was because they didn’t have a hobby.
  4. Being a decent human. People like likable people. The Evite survey referenced above revealed the top five characteristics of a good friend: honesty, trust, loyalty, kindness, and a good sense of humor.

Inside of work —

Many people say that work is the top place they have met friends. And, as we saw above, it actually makes people happier to have friends at work! Here are a few ways to build friendships with coworkers that I’ve found to be rewarding:

  • First, by starting small. Go out for a coffee or drink during the day. It’s an easy way to get out of the office and build rapport.
  • Grabbing a quick drink after work. It’s another easy way to build a friendship outside of the office.
  • Working on shared projects together. Invite the person to brainstorm on a project that you’re struggling with or thinking about.
  • Doing conflict together. There’s nothing I’ve found to cement a “work friend” more than having a conflict with that person. While this sounds counterintuitive, having that conflict shows that the person is “worth fighting for” and worth the time and energy spent ironing out a situation.
  • Working at a place that shares your values. When evaluating a potential employer, look at a company’s values and ways they treat their employees. If your company doesn’t have clearly defined values, I encourage you to lead the charge to get them on paper. We post our values and team manifesto on our site and visit these pillars frequently in team meetings. This ensures that our team is on the same page and held accountable for how we show up in the world.

Stay tuned…

It’s clear that relationships are foundational to our happiness, and if you have other ideas for ways you’re fostering relationships please send them my way! Now that we’ve unpacked rest and relationships as important for happiness, next week we’ll dig into another category of life that consumes 40+ hours of our weeks: work (spoiler alert, it’s is also important for our happiness).

Written by

Helping to give startups the power to create and grow their business wherever they are as CEO of GAN: @GANconnect

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