It’s all about social wellness derived from building happy relationships, unlike those negative vibes that cause stress and affect our physical health, says Geeta Padmanabhan

She needed to answer thirteen more questions before grabbing the Rs. 1 crore cheque from actor Prakashraj. But the plump woman was all smiles. “You can't make me disappointed or angry,” she laughed. “I forgive, forget and move on.” Ramu, an elderly neighbour tells me, “I prepare a mental “engagement” diary of what I'll say to people I'm likely to meet. I then remove all the negative words, and my day wafts like a breeze!” A walker-supported gentleman stops in the park to read a joke from his small diary to anyone who looks his way. Regulars to the Bessie beach are often treated to movie songs on an electronic banjo by a middle-aged mendicant squatting on the promenade or footpath. His music is peppy, his smile is all sunshine.

People-friendly mantra

Lucky if you can feel that way, 24x7. It is social wellness, very doable, say psychologists. That sense of well-being comes from how you manage relationships — with strangers, acquaintances, friends, family and ha! rivals and offenders. It's how you bond with people you meet — daily, once-in-a-while, rarely or unexpectedly. It's how you keep relationships healthy, productive and happy. You may be a stickler for personal health, but your face will belie it if your relationships are stressful and unhealthy. Effects of good health management can be reversed if your SQ (social quotient) doesn't reach the cut-offs. Social wellness is mostly in your outlook — in how you learn to revel in the positive buzz and deal with the negative vibes.

“How was your day?” I called out to Ramu casually across the compound wall. “Great,” he said. “The kirana shopkeeper is distributing sweets over his second baby, the postman got promoted, the bank manager helped with a quick transaction, gas arrived, power cut is off…. Can't complain!” I said I envied his sunny attitude. “Remember the volleyball Hanks had in Castaway?” he asked. “With a bloody hand-print that looked like a face? Hanks called it Wilson, shared his angst with it. And that kept him alive!” A people-friendly mantra, he laughed.

Living in harmony

One of the dimensions of wellness is social, said J.Sasitha, sociologist. “Social wellness means performing social roles effectively and comfortably, living in harmony with others, having meaningful relationships.” A positive outlook, appreciation of nature, participating in activities that promote social harmony are steps towards social wellness, she said. We live in groups, so, in a chain reaction, social happiness leads to emotional wellness, which brings success in work and helps you grow intellectually. All these put together impact physical wellness, she theorised.

“Put your mind to it as in the placebo effect. That is the pre-requisite to social wellness,” she said.

In a joint paper, psychologists Sue Anderson and Jennifer Hung define social wellness as the sum of one's ability to interact with people, respecting oneself and others, acing communication skills and creating a solid support system. Tall order, but needed for physical and mental health management, they say.

Loneliness, they point out, can severely downsize health indicators, and increase risk of many health issues, including stress, cavities and colds.

Rewarding and challenging

Sure, we get pulled in unconnected directions by people we engage with. Developing and maintaining healthy, balanced relationships with partners, children, relatives, friends, co-workers is rewarding, but challenging too. Calls, missed calls, SMSs, e-mails and online net-working add to the traction. Being parents of toddlers/teens/young adults, having elders to look after, managing as a single mother are situations where our roles change, responsibilities multiply. Then there is that spectre of work/life balance, finding equations with co-workers. Phew! It needs taking small steps for healthier relationships before they glue together to ensure everyday wellness.

Start: Communicate, be fully present, listen without interrupting, stay with the topic, be flexible, learn to disagree politely, make feedback constructive, share information about yourself, remember your own needs, be reliable, show warmth and affection, say sorry if you are in the wrong, and never hesitate to ask for help if you need it. Your aim is positive relationships with family, at work and in the circles you move. Some psychologists suggest an active role in community issues; others dismiss it as “thankless”. But everyday wellness works out if we decide to value our differences and embrace them as an essential part of social health.

Building bonds

- Be respectful, honest, learn to trust people, communicate constantly.

- Listen attentively; accept emotions; and respond calmly and clearly.

- Do not hesitate to ask for clarification.

- Do not ridicule, dictate ideas or manipulate.

- Approach relationships with a sense of humour.

- Be confident about yourself; be open to new thoughts.