Loneliness is bad for happiness. So, we all need social support

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Happiness Tip: Take a street and turn it into a community

Happiness Tip: Take a street and turn it into a community

Think of a time when you felt happy or – feel free to tone it down a bit – a time you felt good, or laughed or smiled. Bring that memory to mind and try to remember the details of the situation.

Odds are you thought of a memory where you were together with other people. Sitting in a cabin after a day of skiing, surrounded by friends, with a fire in the fireplace and whisky in your glass.

So, what does the evidence say? Well, if we look at the link with often people meet socially with friends, colleagues or relatives, see a clear pattern. The more often people meet, the happier they are. However, one thing is quantity, another thing is quality.

You cannot be the only one who has felt lonely in a crowded room. You may see and meet other people, but the important thing is whether you connect. Do you get them? Do they get you? Do they trust you enough to let their guard down, to let you know what is really on their mind? To let you in? We also see this reflected in the numbers. The more people you have with whom you can talk about personal matters, the happier you are.

We all need social support

We all need social support

So, loneliness is bad for happiness. Mind-blowing, right? More than two thousand years ago, Aristotle pointed out that man is a social animal; and, in the 1940s, Maslow’s pyramid of human needs showed how love and belonging come just after basic safety and physiological needs.

Today, modern happiness research using big data echoes those findings. What the UN World Happiness Report shows us is that roughly three quarters of the difference in the happiness levels between the countries of the world comes down to six factors.

Social support is measured by asking whether people have somebody they can rely on in times of need. It is a binary and very crude way of measuring it, but we have data on it from around the globe, and it does determine happiness levels.

Fortunately, across the countries in the OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development), 88 per cent of people believe that they know someone they could rely on in a time of need. People in New Zealand, Iceland and Denmark feel most secure. In these countries, 95 per cent or above believe their friends have their back in times of need, while people in Hungary, Korea and Mexico report the lowest level of confidence with 82, 76 and 75 per cent, respectively.