Positive Psychology has been described as a discipline supported by three pillars: Positive Emotions / Experiences, Positive Traits, and Positive Institutions. In recent lectures, Martin Seligman has expanded the construct to include Positive Relationships as one of the pillars of positive psychology.
That is good news – but would it be cheeky to ask for an immediate upgrade? Relationships are central to well-being and deeply entwined with the other pillars of positive psychology. Should positive relationships be described as the very foundation of a science of flourishing, rather than a pillar?
Many of our experiences and strengths develop in, and depend upon, relationship. The rewards of knowing and acting through personal strengths may be more fulfilling and lead to greater well-being when we feel self directed and connected to others. Positive institutions are not built by architects and engineers, but by groups of people in relationship. Institutions flourish when relationships thrive and work enhances well-being.
Templates for Learning and DevelopmentResearchers of attachment theory study how important our first relationships are to ongoing well-being and survival. Those relationships provide a template for the way infants will grow to relate to others as adults. Attachment theorists assert that secure relationships are at the core of a child’s successful intellectual, emotional, social and moral development: “The inescapable conclusion is that children’s development is shaped, for better or worst, by their closest relationships” (Moore, 2006). Children who are secure in their primary relationships are more likely to explore and so learn more about their surroundings, thereby building greater knowledge and resources. Relationships provide the safe haven from which they can bravely venture forth to interact with the world. And it’s not only infants who learn better in secure relationships. School children who feel higher relatedness to parents, teachers and peers are more engaged in the classroom and perform better academically. Click here for more on relatedness and performance..
Relationships and Self-Determination
Self-determination theory shows that we have fundamental psychological needs for relatedness, autonomy and competence. When those needs are met, we enjoy greater well-being. Autonomy and relatedness in particular seem to predict emotional engagement in the classroom which leads to behavioral engagement. We learn better and enjoy better well-being when we feel connected to others and have a sense of personal choice. Researchers have yet to examine whether meeting those needs will also help people develop character strengths more effectively.
Happiness Shared is Happiness SquaredPositive relationships support development and learning, and they make us happy in the long-term. Ed Diener and Martin Seligman have found that the very happiest people in their studies report being in long-term relationships. Other research has shown that people with strong social networks live longer, healthier and happier lives. People who belong to a church or other close groups which play a large role in their lives experience greater belonging and well-being. Researchers have studied couple and family relationships, exploring what goes wrong, and more recently, what goes right with them. Central to many theories of relationship is the concept of ‘perceived responsiveness to the self’. When we perceive that someone understands and responds to us positively, we can feel closer to that person, more trusting, secure and satisfied with our relationship lot.
Understanding, validation, and caring are important building blocks for close relationships. When we share good news with our partner and they respond actively and constructively the message we receive is “You get me, you think I’m OK, and you care about me”. Shelley Gable’s work in this area has shown that, as in many other areas, the positive is not the same as the absence of the negative. Positive behaviors and patterns build enduring relationship resources, enhance our life satisfaction, and our sense of relatedness.
Social EvolutionRelationships are important to well-being from the cradle to the grave. Some researchers argue that we have evolved as fundamentally social creatures and that relationship is essential for well-being. Jonathan Haidt’s hive hypothesis proposes that humans are hyper-social creatures like bees, and that to flourish we must literally lose ourselves and become part of the group. It is in and through our social relationships that we grow into our best selves and fulfill our potential.
So relationships are important for our survival and our well-being. But that doesn’t tell us how to make them work. I’m hoping that many of this month’s PPND’s articles will address just how we can enhance and sustain our relationships. Meanwhile, my simplest users’ guide to relationships contains three words: understanding, validation and caring. They are the gifts of positive relationships, gracefully offered and gratefully received.
Diener, E. & Biswas-Diener, R. (2008). Happiness: Unlocking the Mysteries of Psychological Wealth. Wiley-Blackwell.
Gable, S., Gonzaga, G., & Strachman, A. (2006). Will you be there for me when things go right? Supportive responses to positive event disclosures. Journal of personality and social psychology, 91(5), 904.
Gable, S., Reis, H., Impett, E., & Asher, E. (2004). What do you do when things go right? The intrapersonal and interpersonal benefits of sharing positive events. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 87(2), 228-245.
Haidt, J., Patrick Seder, J., & Kesebir, S. (2008). Hive psychology, happiness, and public policy. The Journal of Legal Studies, 37(S2), 133-156.
Moore, T. (2006). Parallel processes: Common features of effective parenting, human services, management and government.
Skinner, E., Furrer, C., Marchand, G., & Kindermann, T. (2008). Engagement and disaffection in the classroom: Part of a larger motivational dynamic. Journal of Educational Psychology, 100(4), 765-781.
Skinner, E., Kindermann, T., & Furrer, C. (2008). A Motivational Perspective on Engagement and Disaffection. Educational and Psychological Measurement.
Vaillant, G. (2008). Spiritual Evolution: A Scientific Defense of Faith. New York: Broadway Press.
Wright, R. (2000). Nonzero: The logic of human destiny. New York: Vintage Press.
Perfect Love (baby and mother) courtesy of makelessnoise
Stob037 (Dad and baby) courtesy of ChrissyGombos
you & me, me & you (smiley face couple) courtesy of VJFliks
No matter it is Valentine or not ! (loving couple) courtesy of Hamed Masoumi
AUSTRALIA AND ENGLAND NETBALL TEAMS (team photo) courtesy of paddynapper