If you would like to live a good life and be happy, what are the things that count? The science of positive psychology is the place to find the answer. … and a big part of that answer is your relationships because other people matter.
A Harvard study that followed 268 sophomores from the late 1930s and early 1940s over the course of their adult lives showed that the single most important predictor of successful aging, defined by physical and mental health and satisfaction with life at age 75, wasn’t cholesterol level, treadmill endurance or intelligence. It was having close relationships. Based on the extensive data collected over seven decades, the author concluded: “The only things that matter in life are your relations to other people.”
Chris Peterson was one of the founding fathers of positive psychology, and a visionary in the study of character strengths and virtues. He wrote a great deal about the Good Life. He said positive psychology could be summed up in three simple words “other people matter.”
There are many ways you can interpret those words and all of them have value. Here are three reasons why you should follow that mantra.
- Makes you a more whole person
- You should see the world from their perspective
- They need you too
We will describe these in greater detail including some of the thoughts of Chris Peterson. If you apply them, then you will find that your life is indeed richer.
Makes you a more whole person
Being a more whole person implies a richer quality of life. How does that come about? Consider your leisure time activities.
Working out alone in a gym is a discretionary activity, and it has benefits, but it is not seen as leisure. The same workout routine, done with others and not just next to them, becomes leisure, perhaps more fun and perhaps more likely to be sustained.
You clearly should be doing the right thing.
If we want people (including ourselves) to do the right thing, we need to encourage agency and communion. We need to do whatever we can to make people happy and satisfied. We need to put a human face on “those” people who may be affected by our actions.
Many of your actions can be improved in small ways. For example you should go out of your way to express appreciation and gratitude for what others are doing. Few of them are mind readers. Let them know that they matter. They might benefit. And you certainly will.
You should see the world from their perspective
It is too easy to assume that other people see the world as you do. As the old saying goes, you should walk a mile in their shoes. Many of them may not even have a friend.
Who in our circle might most benefit from having a friend? Probably not those who are already popular. When was the last time you (or I) set out to befriend a person who was a bit isolated, a bit awkward, or a bit difficult? Maybe you are like me, and the answer would be seldom or never.
Perhaps when they have achieved something they are really proud of, no one else seems to notice. Go out of your way to spot those who deserve a high-five.
. . . even small acts of celebration, as they accumulate, can have large effects. The take-home message is simple: Celebrate with those in your family or class or neighborhood or workplace, in whatever ways make sense within your group. Good things may result.
They need you too
… and perhaps this is the most important reason why other people matter.
It starts with your family. Try celebrating more family dinners
Increase the number of family meals you share. Turn off the television. Catch up with one another. Linger at the dinner table. None of this can hurt. And I suspect it will help your kids be better people.
It’s equally true of other people who are in your networks and perhaps even more so for those who are not.
Why not start off each day with that mantra, Other People Matter, and consider two activities that you will make your best effort to achieve by the end of the day. Those other people will appreciate it and it will do you a world of good.