New research suggests that the quality of our relationships with other people may be the most important determinant of success in life.
The new study, by Professor Brooke Feeney, of the University of Pittsburgh and Professor Nancy Collins, of the University of Santa Barbara at California which is published in the Personality and Social Psychology Review, builds on the existing body of research by showing that it is the quality of interpersonal relationships that help people to establish a sense of meaning and fulfilment in life. Rewarding, supportive, quality relationships are seen to be a remarkably consistent factor among people who overcome adversity and achieve goals. In particular, this comes down to the way is which personal relationships provide support and help us to thrive through tough times.
But Feeney and Collins also point out that it is the nature of the support that matters. Relationships that make us feel needy, inadequate or inferior are counter productive. The most effective relationships are those that boost our sense of self-efficacy, because we are also giving something back. These relationships are mutual and reciprocal. When we do something for other people we feel optimistic, empowered and positive. It is the sensation that psychologist Jonathan Haidt calls ‘elevation.’
Haidt also points out that the quality of our relationships tends to be strengthened during tough times. ‘Adversity doesn’t just separate the fair-weather friends from the true; it strengthens relationships and it opens people’s hearts to one another.’
Dr Michael Ungar, Killam Professor of Social Work at Dalhousie University, is a world expert on resilience among young people. He identifies that young people who can rely on strong networks of family and friends are far more resilient that those who don’t have these networks. ‘This is also important for another element of resilience – establishing your identity and finding your place,’ says Dr Ungar. His research has shown that reminding yourself of your social networks helps with bringing about a sense of cohesion and belonging, which is essential for resilience.
Professor Kip Williams, of Purdue University, is a world expert on ostracism. He argues that ostracism of office workers erodes feelings of belonging, self-esteem, control and meaningful existence. Ostracism is tough and can even lead to depression, but Professor Williams believes there are solutions. He advises people to actively engage in maintaining old friendships or starting new ones, focusing on one or two close relationships rather than ‘friending’ a vast number of people on Facebook. It seems that developing and maintaining a few good friends is the answer.
It is worth taking note of Professor Williams’s advice. Online social networking does not have the same effect as meaningful relationships with people who are close to us. Your mind is hardwired to work with scarcely more than a dozen meaningful relationships. Who would be in your vital dozen?
So what can we conclude about being ‘bulletproof?’ If you want to strengthen your resilience and fulfill your potential, cultivate a few great, meaningful relationships with friends, siblings, spouses and partners. Seek out a mentor, and look to mentor others. Focus on giving in these relationships, but also receive more than happily. And don’t ever be afraid to ask for help from others.