Course excerpt from Finding Happiness: Positive Interventions in Therapy
Danilo Garcia, a researcher in psychology at the Sahlgrenska Academy’s Centre for Ethics, Law and Mental Health, highlights that close, warm relationships are in fact necessary for our happiness.
Analyzing news articles published online by Swedish dailies during 2010, Garcia looked to see which words most often occurred in the same articles as the Swedish word for happiness. The analysis, which included more than one and a half million words, showed that words like “Prince Daniel,” “Zlatan,” “grandmother” and personal pronouns (such as you/me, us/them) often appear with the Swedish word for happiness. Words like “iPhone,” “millions” and “Google” on the other hand, almost never appeared with the word for happiness (Garcia, 2013).
“It’s relationships that are most important, not material things, and this is in line with other findings in happiness research” (Garcia, 2013).
A more recent study showed that relationships that foster happiness need not be with our family, especially as we age.
Recruiting 271,053 participants of all ages from nearly 100 countries, Michigan State University scholar, William Chopik analyzed survey information about relationships and self-rated health and happiness, along with data from 7,481 older adults in the United States about relationship support/strain and chronic illness.
Chopik uncovered two important findings: both family and friend relationships were linked to better health and happiness overall, but it was friendships that became a stronger predictor of health and happiness at advanced ages. And those friendships were very influential. When friends were the source of strain, participants reported more chronic illnesses. When friends were the source of support, participants were happier (Chopik, 2017).
Chopik contends that friendships predict day-to-day happiness and ultimately how long we will live, even more than spousal and family relationships (Chopik, 2017).
“Friendships become even more important as we age. Keeping a few really good friends around can make a world of difference for our health and well-being. So it’s smart to invest in the friendships that make you happiest” (Chopik, 2017).
Friendships, Chopik further notes, must survive the test of time. Unlike family relationships, we typically do not feel obligated to keep our friends, so the ones we do choose to keep are often the ones that make us feel good. Another study demonstrates that one important aspect of friendship and the close bonds we form is the sharing of good news, particularly in times of stress.
As part of a larger research project, the Study for Employment Retention of Veterans (SERVe), Sarah Arpin, a Gonzaga University social psychologist, examined 162 post 9/11 military couples and explored the connection between perceived responsiveness to capitalization (sharing good news), and the couples self-reported feelings of loneliness, intimacy, and sleep. To be included in the study couples had to have been living together for at least 6 months to participate, though the average length of relationship was 12 years.
Arpin’s results demonstrated an interesting connection: when partners responded positively to the sharing of good news, they felt less lonely, more intimate, and slept better (Arpin, 2017). Arpin explains, “When you share something good, and the recipient of the information is actively happy for you, it heightens the positive experience for both parties. However, when someone ‘rains on your parade’ that can have negative consequences” (Arpin, 2017).
According to research out of University of California at Santa Barbara, deep, meaningful relationships do not only contribute to our well-being in times of stress and over the course of our lives, they also help us thrive.
For their study, researchers Brooke Feeney of Carnegie Mellon University and Nancy Collins of University of California at Santa Barbara defined thriving in 5 components:
- Hedonic well-being (happiness, life satisfaction)
- Eudaimonic well-being (having purpose and meaning in life, progressing toward meaningful life goals)
- Psychological well-being (positive self-regard, absence of mental health symptoms/disorders)
- Social well-being (deep and meaningful human connections, faith in others and humanity, positive interpersonal expectancies)
- Physical well-being (healthy weight and activity levels, health status above expected baselines).
What Feeney and Collins found was that for thriving to occur, relationships must serve two important functions. First, they support thriving through adversity, not only by buffering individuals from negative effects of stress, but also by enabling them to flourish either because of or in spite of their circumstances.
Feeney explains, “Relationships serve an important function of not simply helping people return to baseline, but helping them to thrive by exceeding prior baseline levels of functioning” (Feeney & Collins, 2014).
The second important function of relationships is to support thriving in the absence of adversity by promoting full participation in life opportunities for exploration, growth, and personal achievement. Supportive relationships help people thrive in this way by enabling them to embrace and pursue opportunities that enhance positive well-being, broaden and build resources, and foster a sense of purpose and meaning in life.
This type of support is referred to as Relational Catalyst (RC) Support because support providers can serve as active catalysts for participating in enriching life opportunities (Feeney & Collins, 2014).
While it is not surprising that surrounding ourselves with those we feel close to and supported by is good for our happiness, it seems they also create some pretty powerful physiological effects, some say even better than drugs.
It has been well established that oxytocin, often called the “love hormone,” is associated with interpersonal bonding.
Daniele Piomelli, a researcher at the University of California at Irvine, and his colleagues wanted to know if there was a link between oxytocin and anandamide, which has been called the “bliss molecule” for its role in activating cannabinoid receptors in brain cells to heighten motivation and happiness.
Anandamide is among a class of naturally occurring chemicals in the body known as endocannabinoids that attach to the same brain cell receptors as does marijuana’s active ingredient, THC, with similar outcomes.
To test their hypothesis, Piomelli and his team first measured levels of this marijuana-like neurotransmitter in mice that had been either isolated or allowed to interact. Anandamide levels were shown to increase with social contact, which then triggered cannabinoid receptors to reinforce the pleasure of socialization. When cannabinoid receptors were blocked, this reinforcement disappeared.
Next, the researchers looked for a possible connection between anandamide and oxytocin. By stimulating a small number of neurons in the brain that make oxytocin and use it as a neurotransmitter, researchers were able to increase anandamide creation in the nucleus accumbens.
More importantly, they found that blocking anandamide’s effects also blocked the pro-social effects of oxytocin, which implies that oxytocin reinforces social ties by inducing anandamide formation. Moreover, when anandamide degradation was blocked – meaning more anandamide was made available in the brain for a longer period of time – the pleasure of social contact was enhanced (Wei et al., 2015).
Being around others, who support and care for us, makes us feel good, even blissful. These deep, meaningful relationships also sustain us powerfully through adversity and activate our efforts toward enriching life experiences. The net effect is a potent upward spiral of thriving.
Finiding Happiness: Positive Interventions in Therapy is a 4-hour online continuing education course. Drawing on the latest research, this course will explore the concept of happiness, from common myths to the overriding factors that directly increase our feelings of contentment. We will start with a discussion on why you, the clinician, need to know about happiness and how this information can help in your work with clients. We will then uncover mistakes we make when trying to attain happiness and look carefully at the actions we take and the beliefs that do not just obfuscate our happiness efforts, but often leave us less happy. Next, we will explore the ways in which our mindset influences our feelings of happiness and the many ways we can fundamentally change our levels of well- being, not just immediately, but for many years to come. The final section of this course contains exercises you can use with clients to cultivate and sustain a lifelong habit of happiness.
Course #40-45 | 2018 | 57 pages | 25 posttest questions
CE Credit: 3 Hours
Learning Level: Intermediate
Professional Development Resources is a nonprofit educational corporation 501(c)(3) organized in 1992. We are approved to sponsor continuing education by the American Psychological Association (APA); the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC); the Association of Social Work Boards (ASWB); the American Occupational Therapy Association (AOTA); the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association (ASHA); the Commission on Dietetic Registration (CDR); the Alabama State Board of Occupational Therapy; the Florida Boards of Social Work, Mental Health Counseling and Marriage and Family Therapy, Psychology & School Psychology, Dietetics & Nutrition, Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology, and Occupational Therapy Practice; the Ohio Counselor, Social Worker & MFT Board and Board of Speech-Language Pathology and Audiology; the South Carolina Board of Professional Counselors & MFTs; the Texas Board of Examiners of Marriage & Family Therapists and State Board of Social Worker Examiners; and are CE Broker compliant (all courses are reported within a few days of completion).
Target Audience: Psychologists, Counselors, Social Workers, Marriage & Family Therapist (MFTs), Occupational Therapists (OTs), Registered Dietitian Nutritionists (RDNs), School Psychologists, and Teachers