Many people are so unhappy that they find a therapist or counselor to work through their struggles. Plenty more people are content enough with their lives. But some are truly happy. Where does that happiness come from? Does money buy it? Self-confidence? Safety? Support systems? A fulfilling job? Pets? Everyone’s combination of life experience is different, but repeated studies have identified that some groups tend to be happier than others. Recent studies have looked a bit closer at the happiness quotient of two specific (though very different) groups: people who live in “walkable” neighborhoods, and people who are involved in church. Both had one major factor in common: human relationships.
First, churchgoers. Religion’s “secret ingredient” for making people happy, says the study, is the social ties people build when involved in a religious community. This is not to say that private spirituality is without positive psychological value; past studies have found that spirituality reduces both stress and depression. But those who attend church and build relationships there are consistently happier than those who attend and do not build relationships. Second, the study on walkable neighborhoods and well-being. Walkable neighborhoods provide easy access to post offices, parks, restaurants, playgrounds, barbershops, and club meeting venues. People who live in walkable neighborhoods tend to build “social capital” – they are more likely to meet people, become involved in community volunteer work, build relationships through that work, and ultimately feel happier.
Human connection brings complex values to our lives: relationships give us a sense of belonging in the group, a sense of identity in contrast to others in that group, an almost therapeutic-support system, and reason not to feel lonely. We learn from others’ experiences and insight, and we learn together by pursuing new experiences alongside those we befriend. And on a very basic level, therapy involves this principle as well. Sitting and reading a book about psychology will rarely be as beneficial as sitting and talking with a therapist or counselor. It’s the interactive exchange that makes all the difference.
© Copyright 2010 by By Noah Rubinstein, LMFT, LMHC, therapist in Olympia, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to GoodTherapy.org.
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