This is the season the link between a happy family life and the ability to thrive in your career may be most clear. After a bruising year, many of us are spending the holidays retreating (as much as the pandemic allows) to our loved ones to reset, recharge, and be reminded of why we work so hard the rest of the year. The chaos of 2020 has really brought the importance of family home.
If you need science to confirm this, there are a bunch of studies that show a happy and stable partnership, in particular, is likely to make you more successful professionally. How do you maintain these, the most important relationships in your life?
There are approximately a zillion articles out there offering advice from everyone from the long married to divorce lawyers, but according to a big new review of the relevant science in the Journal of Contextual Behavioral Science, the most important factor for happy relationships boils down to just one characteristic -- psychological flexibility.
The incredible importance of psychological flexibility.
It probably won't come as a shock to those with more than a couple anniversaries behind them that the ability to roll with the emotional punches is essential for a thriving relationship, but the new review of 174 studies bringing together data on 44,000 individuals definitely underlines this fact. And not just when it comes to romantic relationships.
The authors found a strong link between psychological inflexibility and weaker family ties, less satisfying relationships, more shouting and insecurity, and less effective parenting. Being mentally rigid is bad for all kinds of close relationships, it seems. Psychological flexibility helps them all thrive.
Which invites the important question, what exactly is this important quality? As part of its write-up of the study, the British Psychological Society's Research Digest blog explains:
A psychologically flexible person is characterised by a set of attitudes and skills: they are generally open to and accepting of experiences, whether they are good or bad; they try to be mindfully aware of the present moment; they experience difficult thoughts without ruminating on them; they seek to maintain a broader perspective when faced with a challenge; they continue to pursue important goals despite setbacks; and they maintain contact with "deeper values," no matter how stressful a day might be (so, for example, a parent confronted with a screaming child who holds the value of being a kind, compassionate parent is able to bear this in mind when choosing how to react to the child).
Psychological flexibility can be improved.
That sounds lovely, but of course is easier said than done (as any parent who's ever dealt with a toddler having a tantrum can tell you). Is this a character trait you've either developed by the time you reach adulthood or not? According to a host of experts, the happy news is psychological flexibility can be improved.
Author Brad Stulberg offers a readable summary of how to do it on Medium, for example. The first step, he insists, "is giving yourself permission to feel what you are feeling, and to not feel bad about it." A variety of therapists and mental health professionals have also offered tips, including old favorites like mindfulness, journaling, and cultivating relationships with psychologically flexible people.
The bottom line here is clear: The most important aspect of your life for your overall mental well being is your close relationships ("Happiness is love. Full stop," concluded the longest running study of human flourishing ever). And among the most important skills for relationship success is psychological flexibility, so you may want to spend time in the coming year trying to cultivate it.