Why Relationships Matter More than you Think

The relationships we foster in life, whether intentionally or unintentionally, matter more that we think. The people that we connect with will affect our destiny – positively or negatively. Who we run with will determine how we run, the direction we run, how fast we run and how far we run. The people we associate with actually plays a major role in our lives.

I am remembered of the story of a corporate CEO and his wife, travelling by car and they stopped for refuelling and to get something to drink. While the husband went inside to get a cold drink, the wife was actively engaged in conversation with the pump attendant. When the husband got back into the car and drove away, he asked his wife what was all the talking about. The wife said she had dated this guy in high school. Hearing this the husband boasted that ‘I am sure you’re glad you marry a CEO instead of a service station attendant.’ But the wife said to him, ‘No, I was thinking that if I had marry him instead of you, he would have be the CEO and you would be a service station attendant!’

The people we choose to relate to determine who we becomes in life. Walk with the wise and become wise, for a companion of fools suffers harm – Proverbs 13:20. Never underestimate the power of relationships.

According to a Harvard Medical School article, your relationships are more important to your long term physical health than the food you eat or the sleep you get. The article highlighted a study, which examined data from more than 309,000 people, found that the lack of strong relationships increased the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%. Apparently this can add to the mortality risk roughly comparable to smoking up to 15 cigarettes a day, and greater than obesity and physical inactivity.

Harvard Health Publishing:  The health benefits of strong relationships.

Now we must remember that we are not where we are today because of ourselves. There is no such thing as a self-made man. Everyone has got help, be it families, friends or acquaintances. We have benefited from the relationships we foster and grow along the way. No man is an island.

The challenge is then how we manage the relationships around us. How do we ensure we get the best out of relationships? Not every relationship will be good. If we are not careful, bad relationships can eat us away.

Earthquakes, hurricanes and fires get more publicity than any other national disasters. But the fact is termites cause more damage to earth every year than all the natural disasters combined. But termites don’t get publicity because they just take a little bite each time.

Bad relationships do that as well. Just a little bite at a time. Some relationships should be totally avoided or disconnected. They hinder us, suck us dry, pull us back and destroy your life. These are the toxic relationships in your life.

In general, everybody you meet in life will fall into one of these four categories:

1- People who ADD to you. They leave us better than when they met you. They inspire you. They encourage you.

2- People who SUBTRACT from you. They drain you. They sap your energy away and leave you frustrated. They always have a problem.

3- People who MULTIPLY you. They increase you. They help push you up to another level in life. They make you better, play better when you are around them.

4- People who DIVIDE you. They create divisions. Their very nature separates the best of friends. In your life, in your team, work or business, they always create division. They make your life difficult.

Assign these categories to everybody you meet. This alone will tell you immediately how close you are going to let some people come into your life. Of course we should be courteous to everyone but we need to be selective about who you are going to let close to influence you.

Some people we cannot completed avoid. Co-workers, employers, students in your class, teacher or relatives at home. While we cannot totally avoid them, we can control the influence they have in our life. How? By controlling the time we spend with them.

Learn to identify people who adds value to your life. Arrange your life in such a way that you can spend more time with these people. Even a little time spent these people can bring significant positive impact to your life.

So, take stock and have a look at what type people you have been spending your time with. Continue to build good relationships from people who adds and multiplies you. Stay clear of those that subtracts and divides you.

I would like to end by sharing a TED video featuring Robert Waldinger titled – What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. In his talk, Waldinger shares three important lessons learned from a 75-year-old study on adult development, based on unprecedented data on true happiness and satisfaction. Needless to say, his research found that the number one ingredient that keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life (warning, spoiler alert) is meaningful relationships.

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. There are three big lessons derived from the study.

1- Social relationships are really good for us

Loneliness kills. People who are socially more connected to families, friends, and to the community are happier and live longer than people who are less connected.

2 – The quality of your close relationship matters

It is not just the number of friends we have or whether or not we are in a committed relationship. Living in a good and warm relationship protects us. People who are most satisfied in their relationships turn out to be the healthiest.

3- Good relationships don’t just protect our body, they protect our brains

It turns out being in a securely attached relationships in your old age is protective. Our memory stays sharper and longer. And those people in relationships where they cannot count on the other, they experienced earlier memory decline.

We can continue to desire and go for fame and wealth and high achievement, thinking that these are what we need to get a good life. But studies have shown again and again that people who fared the best are those who have lean into relationships, to families, friends and community.

The good life is built with good relationships. It is a lifelong endeavour and it never ends.

Get the good stuff from Waldinger’s talk here.

Finding that Happy at Work

The only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. —Steve Jobs

I bet you have struggled to find job satisfaction one time or another. I know, i have been there, many times. Finding long lasting happiness at work is indeed rare. The scary fact is that most people (80% according to a Deloitte’s Shift Index survey) are dissatisfied with their job.

Yet if we look at how many hours we will work in our lifetime and how many hours we will commute for work, we will realise that it is a lot time to be spending on some thing that we are not happy at.

While some unhappy employees may muster up the courage to change careers, others (in fact, most) will likely suffer with it for the sake of job security. So what has happened to us along our career paths? Why do so many of us struggle in finding happiness at work?

Ask any boys of girls about their ambitions, they will give you a variety of interesting answers. Fireman. Dancer. Football player. Astronaut. Anything is possible. We may discount them for being young and naive and that they don’t know the struggles of life. Can they really be a successful dancer, football player or even an astronaut? Do they even know the risks that come with being a fireman? Cringe as you may, but their answers are actually guided simply by what they thought would make then really happy. There were no limits.

Now take a look at ourselves, the adults. There may be a determined few who have never lost sight of their aspirations to do and be what they wanted to be. But I suspect for the rest of us, we have forgotten our ambitions and and allowed our dreams to be washed down over the years. We begin to settle for jobs and compromise for the wrong reasons. We accepted the notion that it is just not realistic to pursue our passions and still make a decent living. Many of us have started on this path of compromise and it doesn’t look like we will ever going to make it back. This is sad mainly because we are likely to be spending more than a third of our lives working. And this compromise will slowly eat us away.

So what can we do to find happiness in our work?

Frederick Herzberg published a breakthrough article in the Harvard Business Review on the topic of motivation theory, also known as the two-factor theory. He pointed that the common assumption that job satisfaction is one big continuous scale – from very happy at one end to totally miserable on the other extreme, is flawed. Instead, happy and miserable at our jobs are separate and independent measures. That means it is actually possible to love your job and hate it at the same time. Hmmm…

Herzberg’s theory identified two different types of factors when it comes to finding satisfaction or happiness at the work place – Environmental Factors and Motivation Factors.

Environmental Factors

Environmental factors are things like compensation, status, job security and work conditions. It matters that we receive fair compensation based on the market rate, given a certain status or title to operate in your role in a company that is generally thriving. It would even be better if our office setup is conducive and our supervisors do not treat us badly. Bad environmental factors can cause dissatisfaction. We have to actually address and fix the environmental factors in order just not to be dissatisfied or unhappy with our work.

Interestingly according to Herzberg’s research, even if we work hard at improving the environmental factors of our job, we are not going to suddenly love it or be truly happy with it. At best, we just won’t be unhappy or hate it anymore. You see, the opposite of job dissatisfaction is not job satisfaction. It is merely the absence of job dissatisfaction. The absence of job dissatisfaction is not the same thing as job satisfaction or happiness at work. 

It is very important to address the environmental factors, but these alone are not going to get you very far when it comes to finding that happy, that job satisfaction that we seek.

Motivation Factors

How then can we truly be happy and satisfied with our jobs? This is where Herzberg provided insights on another set of factors that are more important in helping us achieve the satisfaction we seek. He calls them “motivators” or motivation factors. The intangibles such as challenging work, recognition, responsibility and personal growth are examples of motivators.

Motivation factors are less about what we see in the outside, but much more about how it impacts us in the inside. Think about being in a job that emphasises on work that is meaningful, that is challenging yet interesting, that provides opportunities to increase our responsibilities and that allows us to grow professionally. These are the factors that will motivate us, to cause us to love what we are doing, to make us truly happy at work.

You can read more abour Herzberg’s research published in an article in the Harvard Business Review here.

It is easy for us to be mistaken that the tangible trappings of career success will always make us happy. Higher salary, more prestigious work title, bigger office or company car. After all isn’t these what our family and friends see as signs that we have “made it”?

However, as soon as we are drawn by these tangible aspect of our jobs, we risk getting enslaved with what pays rather that what makes us happy. We start to chase a job satisfaction or happiness mirage. The next pay rise, promotion, we think, will be the thing that will finally make us happy.

You see, beyond a certain point, environmental factors such as compensation, status and job security are actually by-products of being happy with a job, rather than the cause of it. Realising this can free us to focus on things that really matter.

Again, Herzberg’s theory of motivation suggests that we need to look at our careers from a different angle, asking ourselves totally different sets of questions.

  • Is this work meaningful for me?
  • Am I entrusted with increasing important responsibilities?
  • Am I learning new things or skills?
  • Is this job helping me to develop professionally?
  • Will I be recognised for my achievements?

These are the things that will truly motivate us. When we get this right, our focus on the tangible trappings will start to fade in importance. We are then on our way to finding happiness in our work. And when that happens, we will never work a day again in our lives. Yipeee!