Family Bonding#4 of a series — More about the Happiness Advantage

Data from many studies shows that successful relationships among adult family members depend on the early bonding between parent and child, and between siblings.  I am convinced that positive bonding within families is a critical factor in the long-term success of the family, as well as the family business. Research on the brain reveals the impact that physical touch has on the bonding process.  This fact is well-illustrated by examining research done on the brains of humans and animals.

In her book, Made for Each Other, Meg Daley Olmert talks about the hormone oxytocin — produced in the brain and released during times of bonding or intimacy, such as when mothers nurse babies or when people pet or even look at their dogs. Dalmert explores how the bond between humans and dogs echoes the bond between humans and other humans, due to oxytocin.

Oxytocin is essential for bonding between animal mothers and their offspring.  Daley Olmert speculates that when the first wolf pups were brought into caves for domestication, they were stroked by their cave-dweller masters and the stroking calmed the pup.  We can speculate that what calmed them was the oxytocin when they were being petted, the same as what happened when licked by the wolf mother. (2)  Olmert reports that when we pet our dogs, we often do so at the rate of about 40 strokes a minute.  This is the about the same rate at which various animal mothers studied licked their pups.

Research by Kai MacDonald, M.D., (3) assistant clinical professor of psychiatry at UCSD writes that in humans, oxytocin is released during hugging and pleasant physical touch. It appears to change the brain signals related to social recognition via facial expressions, perhaps by changing the firing of the amygdala, the part of the brain that plays a primary role in the processing of important emotional stimuli. In this way, oxytocin in the brain may be a potent mediator of human social behavior.  “That’s why oxytocin is sometimes called ‘the love hormone,’ “said MacDonald. “We know that the eye-to-eye communication, which is affected by oxytocin, is critical to intimate emotional communication for all kind of emotions — love, fear, trust, anxiety.“

I’ve worked as a consultant to family business for more than four decades.  As I reflect on some of the best family relationships of my clients, I can cite family after family where members hug one another on greeting.  I have observed one father who, when greeting his children, hugs them and always rubs the back of their neck or tousles their hair.  It is probably a throw back to how he hugged his children when they were small.  These families have a culture of love and support, and that ultimately leads to more successful working relationships.

Science Daily (3) reported that researchers at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) School of Medicine are studying “whether the brain hormone, released with touches, hugs or when a mother and her newborn baby bond, has a long term influence on relationships.“ The article went on to note “(Oxytocin) …associated with pair bonding, including mother-infant and male-female bonds, is increased in paternal involvement with children.“

Shawn Achor (4) cited a study, appropriately titled “Very Happy People,“ in which there was one — only one — characteristic that distinguished the happiest 10 percent from everybody else.  It was the strength of their social relationships.

Gallup asked ten million employees around the world if they could agree or disagree with the following statement: “My supervisor, or someone at work seems to care about me as a person.“  Those who agreed were found to be more productive, contributed more to profits and were significantly more likely to stay with their company long-term.

When we blend all of this information into a package, it is clear that “social investment“ in the family business is a factor in both family business success and personal level of satisfaction.  I’ll explore this further in my next post.

To read the entire series on the Happiness Advantage, visit my Blog page.

“Made for Each Other,“ by Meg Daley Olmert ISBN-10: 0306818604 | ISBN– 13



4. “The Happiness Advantage“ by Shawn Achor, ISBN 978-0-307-59154-8

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