Why Maintaining Stimulating Relationships is Good for You

Edi­tor Note: One of the main pil­lars of brain fit­ness is to devel­op and main­tain stim­u­lat­ing social rela­tion­ships. This arti­cle describes a recent social psy­chol­o­gy study that sheds some light on what good you can get from such relationships.
A great post by Matthew Brim that we are pleased to bring you thanks to our col­lab­o­ra­tion with The Greater Good Magazine.
(Photo: Tatiana Gladskikh)

.Why Other People’s Good News Could Be Good for You

How often does this hap­pen to you: You come home ecsta­t­ic about some great news—a job pro­mo­tion, a vic­to­ri­ous ten­nis match, or maybe just the lat­est Ben and Jerry’s ice cream flavor—and you imme­di­ate­ly relate the expe­ri­ence to your roman­tic part­ner, room­mate, or any­one with­in earshot. But instead of shar­ing your enthu­si­asm, they greet your news with indif­fer­ence. Does this quell your excite­ment, or even make you enjoy the event less?

A recent study pub­lished in the Jour­nal of Per­son­al­i­ty and Social Psy­chol­o­gy sug­gests that when we share pos­i­tive events with oth­ers and are met with gen­uine inter­est, we tend to enjoy those events more and feel clos­er to our confidant.

In the study, Uni­ver­si­ty of Rochester psy­chol­o­gist Har­ry T. Reis and col­leagues exam­ined the ben­e­fits of retelling one’s good for­tune to anoth­er per­son. They asked under­grad­u­ate stu­dents to recall one of the best things that had hap­pened to them over the past few years to some­one else (who was actu­al­ly a con­fed­er­ate, some­one work­ing with the researchers).

As the par­tic­i­pants told their sto­ries, the con­fed­er­ates react­ed either with enthu­si­asm or dis­in­ter­est. After­wards, the researchers had par­tic­i­pants rate their moods, their atti­tude toward the event they’d described, and their feel­ings of close­ness toward the confederate.

Over a series of exper­i­ments, Reis and his col­leagues found that when con­fed­er­ates react­ed pos­i­tive­ly to the par­tic­i­pants’ stories—when they smiled, for instance, or made state­ments like “I’m real­ly hap­py for you,” or “That’s great!”—the par­tic­i­pants felt bet­ter about the orig­i­nal event itself and seemed to be in a bet­ter mood. What’s more, enthu­si­as­tic feed­back not only made the orig­i­nal event more enjoy­able but led to greater feel­ings of close­ness, trust, and inti­ma­cy toward the listener.

In fact, at the end of one of the exper­i­ments, the par­tic­i­pants were told they would receive one dol­lar as a reward for par­tic­i­pat­ing, but they actu­al­ly “mis­tak­en­ly” received two dol­lars. The researchers found that par­tic­i­pants whose sto­ries were received with enthu­si­asm were more like­ly to return the extra money.

These results sug­gest that respond­ing pos­i­tive­ly to some­one else’s news isn’t just impor­tant when deal­ing with close friends or roman­tic part­ners. Enthu­si­as­tic respons­es elic­it trust and affin­i­ty even from peo­ple with whom we have very brief inter­ac­tion, such as job inter­view­ers or peo­ple we meet in line at the gro­cery store.

So the next time your spouse is excit­ed to tell you about his amaz­ing day at work, or a stranger on the bus is eager to share the details of a deli­cious lunch she just had, don’t just polite­ly nod and move on. Shar­ing this kind of news is an impor­tant part of build­ing and main­tain­ing close rela­tion­ships. So smile, con­grat­u­late them, and enthu­si­as­ti­cal­ly shake their hand.  Per­haps their hap­pi­ness will rub off on you.

Matthew Brim is a Greater Good edi­to­r­i­al assis­tant. The Greater Good Mag­a­zine, based at UC-Berke­ley, is a quar­terly mag­a­zine that high­lights ground break­ing sci­en­tific research into the roots of com­pas­sion and altruism.

Relat­ed article:


  1. ????????? on January 14, 2011 at 3:59


  2. Sophie on January 28, 2011 at 5:39

    Indeed, rela­tion­ship is plays an impor­tant role in our life. Accord­ing to Maslow’s hier­ar­chy of needs, after phys­i­o­log­i­cal and safe­ty needs are ful­filled, the third lay­er of human needs are social and involve feel­ings of belong­ing­ness. Humans need to feel a sense of belong­ing and accep­tance. We might feel oppressed by a feel­ing of some­thing miss­ing in our life if we lack this. Good rela­tion­ship with oth­ers must be established.

About SharpBrains

SHARPBRAINS is an independent think-tank and consulting firm providing services at the frontier of applied neuroscience, health, leadership and innovation.
SHARPBRAINS es un think-tank y consultoría independiente proporcionando servicios para la neurociencia aplicada, salud, liderazgo e innovación.

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