Back in 1967, the Beatles hit single “All You Need is Love” dominated the international airwaves. While the lyrics may be rather simplistic on the surface, the underlying message is backed by scientific research. Studies have consistently shown that what matters above all else is having authentic connections that are based on love, respect, admiration, and reliability.
Yet, we often neglect our relationships and take people for granted. In fact, according to Bronnie Ware – a palliative care nurse and the best-selling author of the memoir The Top Five Regrets of the Dying – the fourth most common regret is “I wish I’d stayed in touch with my friends.”
Why are relationships so important?
As social animals, we have a deep need for belonging, love, and physical and emotional contact. By building strong networks and relationships with our family members, friends, co-workers, and neighbours, we can enhance our own well-being. Said another way, without social relationships happiness is impossible (Diener & Seligman, 2002).
According to the late John T. Cacioppo, who conducted pioneering research in social neuroscience, the perception of loneliness is a major cause of a host of psychological and physiological illnesses – ranging from depression, insomnia, and obesity to diabetes.
While it’s vital to build and maintain relationships, it is equally important to know the difference between a healthy relationship and a damaging one. Some relationships are dangerous because they are one-sided or co-dependent. Other relationships flounder because people take each other for granted, don’t make time for each other, or fail to communicate.
The key to any successful relationship is balance. It is not enough to surround yourself with friends; you must also listen, share, and invest the time and energy required to maintain strong connections.
So how can we nurture healthy relationships?
- Be kind to yourself: Studies have shown that people who exercise self-compassion tend to do better in relationships. Rather than beat yourself up over a bad day, consider what a caring friend would say to you in the situation and follow that advice.
- Express gratitude: People who express gratitude tend to have richer social lives, as they are more likeable and worthy of being around. Showing gratitude not only strengthens relationships, it also helps people to focus on and appreciate what they have.
- Be kind to others: Since people who are kind and generous tend to build good will, they will include you in their virtuous circle – making you feel more appreciated and connected.
- Nurture your friendships every day: Instead of investing in 30 relationships, choose to focus your energy on the people who matter most to you to deepen your connections.
- Avoid distractions and be present: When you are with someone, give them your undivided attention by silencing your phone or switching off the TV.
Although the Beatles suggested “it’s easy” to show love, our social norms and practices would indicate otherwise. The moral of this story (or post) is to show your loved ones that you cherish them and they will – in turn – cherish you. Don’t wait until it is too late.