If you consider yourself a naturally social person, you're probably not surprised to hear that spending time with friends and family is proven to make you happier. But even if your'e anti-social, don't skip this one---it turns out that you'll be happier when you hang out with others, too. Really!
Research into the impact of social behavior on health and longevity has been going on for years, with study after study concluding that humans are, simply put, social creatures who require connections with other humans in order to thrive.
In fact, lack of social connection is being called a greater overall health risk than smoking! Being lonely impacts your immune system as well as your susceptibility to anxiety, depression, and antisocial behaviors. (It's easy to see how this can create a vicious cycle; poor social connections cause in increase in the very behaviors which interfere with those connections, which means more of those behaviors, etc.) Here's what you need to know about social connections and happiness.
Connection is contagious
Just like germs, your "connection benefits" tend to be contagious---love, altruism, and yes, happiness, all seem to spread through solid human connections. That's great news! It means you can reap the benefits of your network (that is, the people you interact with, whether in person or by phone or online) in unexpected ways. While deep connections seem to be the most beneficial, even more casual connections can still confer positive effects when those connections are pro-social. Some Harvard researchers are considering social connection ramifications within friendship networks and finding positive influence contagious in ways even those experiencing the effects often don't recognize.
Connection is about perception
Just as you can feel lonely in a crowd or all alone in spite of a large circle of family and friends, your connectedness to others is less about what you do and more about how you view those relationships. Taking the time to feel grateful for the people in your life actually deepens those bonds, whether it changes any of the outward behavior happening between you or not. That's pretty awesome.
Connection makes us kinder
Feeling connected to those around us creates a push towards increased levels of altruism. In one now-famous experiment, Jonathan Stark made his Starbucks card information public and encouraged others to use it or "pay it forward" as they saw fit. The card saw ample use (both in adding to and drawing from the funds) over the course of the day, and some social scientists say the notion of connection via online networking played a role in why others were so willing to contribute. It felt like a social situation, and it brought out most people's giving nature. This makes sense given what we know about community service and other sorts of altruism, too---people who are generous to others not only boost their health and happiness, but they report feeling more connected to others, and those they serve are boosted as well.
Connection can be cultivated
Yes, even introverts can find way to build and optimize connections to others. In today's technological world, it's easier than ever to "find your tribe," whether it be in person or through a digital medium. The great news is that all positive connections have health and happiness benefits, so you needn't only look for the kind of deep, best-friends-forever situation as "counting." Participating in any form of positive social interaction is building up your so-called connection bank, and the more you connect, the happier you'll feel, and the more likely you'll be to build even more connections.
Connection is the answer
If you've read up on the famous Grant Study---a 75-year longitudinal project attempting to pinpoint what makes us the most happy---the study's 3-decade-long director, George Vaillant, said the takeaway is clear: "Happiness is love. Full stop." And again and again, when humans are observed and probed and quizzed on what makes them feel love, it's... other people. Not things, or even experiences, but our connections with other people. Because that's what makes us happiest.