As it turns out, all positive emotions were not created equally. Love and the similar emotions that we experience when we feel connected socially—like affection, warmth, care, fondness, and compassion—are more powerful than the others. In Barbara Fredrickson’s words:
Love is our supreme emotion: its presence or absence in our lives influences everything we feel, think, do, and become. It’s that recurrent state that ties you in—your body and brain alike—to the social fabric, to the bodies and brains of those in your midst. When you experience love . . . you not only become better able to see the larger tapestry of life and better able to breathe life into the connections that matter to you, but you set yourself on a pathway that leads to more health, happiness, and wisdom.
The longest running study of human development, The Harvard Grant Study, has charted the physical and emotional health of over two hundred Harvard alumni since 1938 (which means that many of the study’s participants are pushing a hundred years old—or pushing up daisies). The Grant Study makes it clear that “the most important influence, by far, on a flourishing life is love,” as one of the researchers behind the study, George Vaillant, put it in Triumphs of Experience.
It isn’t just that people who are more connected are the happiest people. They are also the most successful at work and at school. When college students feel a sense of belonging, their grades go up. In one study, African American college students were asked to read a short testimonial from older students about how they had been worried about fitting in but that things had turned out well. They then had to make a short video testimonial about their own experience of fitting in. This one simple intervention “led to an enduring improvement in GPA in nearly every semester of about 0.2 GPA units (for example, a GPA of 3.6 instead of 3.4),” writes UCLA neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman.
Take a minute to reflect.
Where do you feel the greatest sense of belonging in your life? Where do your strongest and most positive social connections come from?
This post is from a series about social connections from the “Science of Finding Flow,” an online course I created as a companion to my book The Sweet Spot: How to Accomplish More by Doing Less. Want to go on to the next class or start the course from the beginning? It’s free! Just go to The Science of Finding Flow course page. Enjoy!