2014.09.05 Connections are Happiness

I have in my blog again and again promoted getting out to meet new people if you move to a new place. Volunteer. Become member of a club. Find a church. But do get to know some people you can like.

Now I will do so even more for scientific reasons: Strong connections and happiness go hand in hand.

First a little story: One of the many new people I met was in the middle of where things happened right from the get go. "I have a very simple model" he said, "I will find an organization doing something I can support and offer them my help. Such organizations can always use an extra hand and in no time I know all the people in the organization worth knowing."

Great initiative and an example of where the virtue of giving forward creates its own rewards.

The reason that I promote my friend's model is, however, not for the giving he does when offering his volunteer time. It is because we now have good research finding that having stronger connections to a social network seems to be a strong indicator for how generally satisfied we will be with our life.

In a big survey by a Danish Insurance company and the Danish Happiness Research Institute (yes, the Danes do have such an institution) it was found that having good, strong connections vs. having only weak connections correlated with a 4 point higher happiness rating on a 10 point scale.

People with only weak connections rated themselves at 4.5 on average on a scale (with 10 being very high general satisfaction with life and 0 being totally morose.) But people with strong connections rated their happiness with an average of 8.4.

That is almost a doubling in life quality!

Little wonder that immigrants and other expats who have not yet found a social network in their new country can feel very unhappy.

But people often move because economic opportunities are just so much better in a new country. Doesn't that count for something?

Apparently only very little. Looking at the impact stemming from income on general life satisfaction, the researchers found that doubling your household income only lead to an increase in satisfaction of 0.5 point.

You can download the whole report here, scroll down to the report "The Happy Danes" almost at the bottom of the page and click on the picture. If you read Danish, this link will give you the Danish version.

This is research done on 10,000 people all over Denmark, not "36 undergraduate psychology students". But never the less we can't infer that it is the relationships leading to happiness. It might be that happy people are more likely to have a supportive network - correlation isn't causality.

We also have yet to see if similar results can be found in other populations or if this relationship is a special Danish phenomenon. Perhaps Danes prioritize relationships higher and income lower than other peoples?

But until we know if connections makes everybody else happier as well, there is little risk trying my friend's approach. Working on a task together has always been a good, trust-building activity.