The Single Most Important Thing We All Crave
Research explains how to get it and keep it.
Posted Sep 17, 2019
It's been a while since our last post. We took an unintended hiatus from writing after an exciting and busy summer traversing the globe to share our work in Australia speaking about the importance of relationships to well-being.
We kicked off our trip in Melbourne at IPPA’s 6th World Congress on Positive Psychology where we gave a pre-conference workshop on how science can help us build stronger relationships followed by a month-long stay in Adelaide as part of a City Library residency. While there, we gave numerous presentations and workshops on the importance of all relationships (romantic and otherwise) to our health and happiness.
We discussed the inherent challenges of all relationships, dispelled some popular cultural myths about romantic love, and shared research and real-life examples to help attendees build more satisfying and sustainable connections with others.
One of the main topics we delved into was the notion of strengths, a hallmark of positive psychology. In brief, as we explained in previous posts, positive psychology researchers have identified twenty-four strengths that have been valued across time and cultures. Qualities like creativity, love of learning, leadership, and zest.
The good news is that we all have strengths and we have them in different configurations. Our strengths — along with our personalities, upbringing, and experiences — are in part what makes us unique from others.
We explained how identifying, understanding and using our strengths on a daily basis is associated with enhanced well-being. Further, we pointed out that when we see and help facilitate strength use in others, we forge stronger connections.
Workshop participants said that it was easy to understand how focusing on our strengths and those of our partner, rather than dwelling on problems, would naturally make us feel better and improve our relationships. It sounds simple enough they all seemed to agree. But how specifically can we do that? This was a common question that we were asked.
One way to do this is to take the free VIA survey to find out your top five strengths, commonly referred to as your signature strengths. Once you discover your top 5 strengths you can practice using them on a daily basis. After a while, focusing and using your strengths will become a habit and well-being will likely increase.
We invited workshop attendees to take the VIA and invite their spouse or significant other to do so as well in order to gain a better understanding of one another and the relationship as a whole.
We explained how our romantic partner’s unique strengths are often what attracts us at the beginning of the relationship. We are enthralled with how different they are to us. Naturally, we are drawn in wanting to know more at these oh-so intoxicating early stages of romance. We are curious about our partner, probably asking a lot of questions.
However, this stage is usually fleeting. Later on in the relationship, our partner’s intrinsic qualities that we initially viewed as intriguing are somehow now seen as irritating quirks in our eyes. No longer do we view these strengths as exciting differences, but rather see them as annoying deficits.
Additionally, we often fall into a rut thinking we know all there is to know about the other person. And we stop asking questions. At this point, our relationship can be in danger, hanging by a thread.
This concept resonated with so many people we met from across the globe. It seems almost universal that we somehow think that satisfying relationships, especially romantic ones, are just supposed to happen, with no work on our part. Perhaps in fairy tales and films that’s the case. However, in real life, it’s healthy habits that build happiness over the long term.
Three specific habits we suggest to build healthier relationships are:
- Focus your attention on the good: Focus your attention on what is already going well in your life, and relationship, rather than fixating on what’s wrong. Next, ask yourself what is one small step you can take on a daily basis to help grow that good in yourself and your partner?
- Be proactive about your happiness: Focus on what you put into the relationship rather than what you get out of it. Truly happy couples realize that happily ever after doesn’t just happen but that it takes effort. These couples focus on action steps they can take to improve their relational happiness rather than relying on their partner to fulfill them.
- Be curious: Continue asking questions to better understand your partner and to deepen your bond. Don’t assume you know everything about your partner. People and relationships evolve: Rather than getting caught up in our heads thinking perhaps how relationships should be, focus on the experiences themselves.
In sum, the single most important takeaway from our month-long sojourn is simple:
We all want healthy, thriving, uplifting relationships no matter who we are, where are from, and regardless of our individual differences. In the end, we are all the same. We evolved as social animals and crave connection. It’s this innate desire of our shared humanity that bonds us.
Pileggi Pawelski, S. & Pawelski, J. (2018). Happy Together: Using the Science of Positive Psychology to Build Love That Lasts. New York: TarcherPerigee.