How do you respond to the people in your life when they choose to share good news with you? Do you authentically share in their good fortune? Or do you change the subject and talk about something else?
There is little doubt that social support is critical to well-being. Social support is defined as having people in your life for whom you care and who care about you, it’s a mutual relationship. Truth be told the quality of your relationships defines the quality of your life. Let me clarify a very important point. When we talk about social network we aren’t talking about social media friends. We are talking about people you can count on and know they can count on you. How do you develop that supportive social network?
According to Shelly Gable one way to develop a supportive social network is to respond to those in your network active and constructively. We all know how to respond to people in the hard times, however few of us seem to know how to respond to people in the good times. And responding to someone in the good times is just as important, if not more so, than responding in the bad times. Responding active constructively in the good times builds relationships.
So what is an active constructive response? When you respond active constructively you show sincere and deep interest in the other person’s news by discovering more about the source of their good fortune. When you truly share in the other person’s joy, you magnify and enrich the positive experience. In doing so you enrich the relationship.
What does an active constructive response look like? Let’s say your son shares with you his excitement about doing well on a test. An active constructive response could be, “Wow, you must be so proud of yourself! I bet you studied really hard. How do you feel? How do you want to celebrate? Tell me what you did to get such a good grade?” The answers to these questions are fertilizer for further questions.
Starting today what can you do differently? First you can reflect upon your habitual response to others’ good news. Next you can consciously practice active constructively responding by writing down what you would say to someone when they share their good news. Finally you can actively seek out someone to practice with.
Remember, resilience is not only the ability to overcome adversity, it’s the ability to accept what is beyond our control and make the best happen. There really isn’t much we can do about what life sends our way, but there is a whole lot we can do about how we deal with it.
During difficult times I can’t stress enough the importance of social support. I know, when social support is most elusive, it can be what we most crave. Social support comes in many forms. Remember social support is not defined by the quantity of people in our lives nor the physical presence of the person. Social support is defined by the quality of our relationships. You don’t have to be face to face with a person to have a quality relationship. And research is really clear, social support is correlated to well-being. In case you doubt the importance of social support this is a video on a very well known longitudinal study called the Harvard Study, it explains the importance of social support.
In case you still continue to doubt the importance of social support, this is a wonderful podcast (done at the beginning of the pandemic) on the research on social support and how to beat the sense of loneliness during these times. Dr. Laurie Santos is a Yale professor. In 2018 she offered Yale’s most popular class entitled Psychology and the Good Life.
So, in an effort to make the best happen, to help yourself be more resilient, difficult times can be an opportunity to build community, reach out to people. Call people, skype, zoom, facetime, conference call whatever you choose but reach out. Keep in contact. Be creative about reaching out and being in contact. And be flexible about your expectations.