Having seen the evidence that social connections are key to happiness, we have to ask: Why is that? Why do we enjoy such a mental boost from our social ties? To help answer that question, we have to explore various reasons why our propensities to affiliate and connect might have proven essential to our survival. These evolutionary insights suggest that the happiness benefits of social connections aren’t just about politeness, or certain cultural norms. They also help us understand our own minds, putting us in a stronger position to identify the choices and activities that will bring us the greatest amount of happiness.
If humans are truly shaped to connect with others for their survival, therefore humans today would be supplied with the basic tools required for connection. Indeed, there is strong evidence to support this claim. There are dedicated systems for connecting with others in our minds and bodies, and our most basic communication faculties are geared for expressing and detecting affinitive signals from one another. Taking this idea one step further, we can argue that social connection may be our evolved “baseline,” that is, human minds assume that regular contact with others is the norm, and register other people as a behavioral resource–while the lack of others company is a reason for stress.
Our relationships can benefit happiness. But of course, not all relationships are the same; what it takes to cultivate, sustain, and reap the benefits from them varies, depending on the type of relationship we’re talking about.
There are particular benefits of specific kinds of relationships: romantic bonds, parent-child bonds, friendships, and acquaintances with people we feel similar and dissimilar to. Different relationships relate differently to happiness. Some interesting questions come to mind: Does getting married boost happiness? Are happy people more likely to get married? Are there other reasons why marriage might (or might not) lead to happiness?