Happiness is determined in part by genetic factors, such that some people are naturally happier than others (Braungart, Plomin, DeFries, & Fulker, 1992; Lykken, 2000), 1 but also in part by the situations that we create for ourselves. Psychologists have studied hundreds of variables that influence happiness, but there is one that is by far the most important. People who report that they havepositivesocialrelationships with others—the perception ofsocial support—also report being happier than those who report having less social support (Diener, Suh, Lucas, & Smith, 1999; Diener, Tamir, & Scollon, 2006). 2 Married people report being happier than unmarried people (Pew, 2006), 3 and people who are connected with and accepted by others suffer less depression, higher self-esteem, and less social anxiety and jealousy than those who feel more isolated and rejected (Leary, 1990). 4
Social support also helps us better cope with stressors. Koopman, Hermanson, Diamond, Angell, and Spiegel (1998) 5 found that women who reported higher social support experienced less depression when adjusting to a diagnosis of cancer, and Ashton et al. (2005) 6 found a similar buffering effect of social support for AIDS patients. People with social support are less depressed overall, recover faster from negative events, and are less likely to commit suicide (Au, Lau, & Lee, 2009; Bertera, 2007; Compton, Thompson, & Kaslow, 2005; Skärsäter, Langius, Ågren, Häagström, & Dencker, 2005). 7
Social support buffers us against stress in several ways. For one, having people we can trust and rely on helps us directly by allowing us to share favors when we need them. These are the direct effects of social support. But having people around us also makes us feel good about ourselves. These are the appreciation effects of social support. Gençöz and Özlale (2004) 8 found that students with more friends felt less stress and reported that their friends helped them, but they also reported that having friends made them feel better about themselves. Again, you can see that the tend-and-befriend response, so often used by women, is an important and effective way to reduce stress.