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As humans, we are fundamentally social beings whose connections to others are vital
to our health and happiness. As we have noted in many places throughout this book,
the evidence connecting well-being to relationships is overwhelming (see Chapters 3
and 5). David Myers referred to the contribution of relationships to health and happiness as
a “deep truth” (1992, p. 154). The “truth” of the well-being/relationship connection appears
to be universal. Of the many factors that contribute to well-being, only social relationships
CHAPTER OUTLINE
Defining Close Relationships
Characteristics
Exchange and Communal Relationships
On the Lighter Side
Teasing and Humor
Focus on Research: Sharing What Goes Right in Life
Friendship and Romantic Love
Clarity of Rules
Complexity of Feelings
Expectations
Varieties of Love
Passionate versus Companionate Love
Triangular Theory of Love
Cultural Context of Love, Marriage, and Divorce
Why Don’t Marriages Last?
Increased Freedom and Decreased Constraints
Getting Married and Staying Married: Is Love the Answer?
Realism or Idealism?
Satisfaction and Conflict
What People Bring to Romantic Relationships
Attachment Style
Conflict and Communication Skills
Focus on Research: The Power of the “Bad”
Attributions
Implicit Theories and Expectations
Food for Thought: Contours of a Happy Marriage
What Can Happy Couples Tell Us?
Humor and Compatibility
11
Close Relationships
and Well-Being
239
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
240 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
consistently predict happiness across widely differing
cultures (Diener & Diener, 1995).
Relationships are responsible for our greatest
joys and our most painful sorrows. Our physical and
emotional well-being is enhanced as much by supporting
and caring connections with others as it is
jeopardized by social isolation and bad relationships.
For physical health and longevity, the magnitude
of these effects rival those of well-established
health risks such as smoking, obesity, diet, and lack
of exercise (see Chapter 3). The quality of our relationships
has equally powerful effects on mental
health and happiness. Healthy people have strong,
supportive connections to others and happy people
have rich social lives, satisfying friendships, and
happy marriages (see Chapters 3 and 5).
The importance of positive relationships is
widely recognized by psychologists and nonpsychologists
alike. People typically list close relationships
as one of their most important life goals
and a primary source of meaning in life (Emmons,
1999b). In one study, 73% of college students
said they would sacrifice another important life
goal (e.g., good education, career) before they
would give up a satisfying romantic relationship
(Hammersla & Frease-McMahan, 1990). In answer to
the “deathbed test” most people point to relationships
as a major factor that contributes to a satisfying
and meaningful life (Reis & Gable, 2003; Sears,
1977). A full appreciation of the value of close relationships
is one of life’s more important lessons,
often learned in the face of life-threatening events
(see Chapter 4 on Posttraumatic Growth).
We have also discussed the multiple ways that
relationships contribute to well-being. Relationships
provide an important coping resource through
social support, fulfill needs for intimacy and sharing
of life’s burdens through self-disclosure, and represent
an ongoing source of enjoyment and positive
emotions through interactions with others. Many
psychologists believe these positive effects are built
on a biological foundation reflecting our evolutionary
heritage. Humans are not particularly imposing
figures compared to the other animals they confronted
in pre-historic times, and human infants
remain relatively defenseless for many years.
Evolution may have selected for a geneticallyorganized
bonding process. Going it alone likely
meant the end of a person’s genetic lineage. In
short, humans probably would not have survived if
they did not have a built-in biological motive to
form cooperative bonds with others and nurturing
connections with their own offspring. As we noted
in Chapter 5, the evolutionary basis of human connections,
together with the extensive literature
showing the importance of human bonds, led
Baumeister and Leary (1995) to conclude that
belongingness is a fundamental human need which
they described as, “a pervasive drive to form and
maintain at least a minimum quantity of lasting, positive,
and significant interpersonal relationships”
(p. 497). Food and water are essential supplies for a
healthy life. Similarly, caring relationships with others
also appear to be essential to well-being.
Recent studies have begun to explore some of
the biological underpinnings of our need for
belonging. For example, oxytocin is a pituitary hormone
that has physiological effects that counter the
flight-or-fight stress response. That is, this hormone
reduces fearfulness and the physiological arousal
associated with stress by producing relaxation and
calmness (Carter, 1998; Taylor, Klein, Lewis, et al.,
2000; Uvnas-Moberg, 1998). Oxytocin is sometimes
referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because close
physical contacts such as touching, hugging, and
kissing stimulate its release (Hazan, Campa, & Gur-
Yaish, 2006). Oxytocin is responsible for the release
of milk in nursing mothers. The calm emotional
state and feelings of safety produced by the hormone
are thought to contribute to infant–maternal
bonds. For both men and women, oxytocin levels
are at their highest during sexual orgasm (Uvnas-
Moberg, 1997). These findings suggest that our
desire for intimate connections with others and the
comfort these connections provide are at least partially
mediated by biological responses. Obviously,
there’s more to a hug than just biology, but that hug
might not feel quite as good if it weren’t for biology.
The connection of satisfying relationships to
well-being is clear. What is not so clear is how people
develop and maintain good relationships. In this
chapter, we will explore what psychologists have
learned about close, intimate relationships that
addresses the following sorts of questions: What is
the difference between close relationships and more
casual acquaintances? How does an intimate connection
develop between two people? What does it
mean to be someone’s friend? To be in love? What
characterizes good and bad relationships? Given the
widely shared belief in the importance of close relationships,
why do half of all marriages end in
divorce? Why is it so difficult to sustain a satisfying
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 241
long-term marriage? Can “happy” couples tell us
something about the ingredients of a successful
marriage?
DEFINING CLOSE RELATIONSHIPS
Characteristics
We encounter many people each day as we shop,
talk on the phone, keep appointments, visit, work,
go to school, go to church, and relax with family
members, friends, or spouses at the end of the
day. While all the relationships involved in these
encounters are potentially significant, researchers
have spent most of their time studying our closest
relationships—specifically friendship, romantic love,
and marriage. Our best friends, lovers, and spouses
are the most important people in our lives and have
the most impact on our overall well-being across the
life span.
Close relationships can be distinguished from
more casual acquaintances in a number of ways,
but the degree of intimacy seems most central to
the distinction. In everyday language, intimacy
often implies a sexual and romantic relationship.
We may be more likely to describe a good friend as
a best friend or a close friend, rather than an intimate
friend. However, relationship researchers use
the term “intimacy” to capture mutual understanding,
depth of connection, and degree of involvement,
whether or not the relationship is sexual. The
term “intimacy” can apply both to friends and to
lovers. It is in this sense that our closest relationships,
sexual or not, are the most intimate ones.
Although some researchers believe that close relationships
and intimate relationships are distinct and
independent types (see Berscheid & Reis, 1998), we
will use the term “intimate” to describe our closest
relationships.
Based on an extensive review of the literature,
Miller, Perlman, and Brehm (2007) suggest that both
lay-persons and psychologists seem to agree on six
core characteristics that set intimate relationships
apart from more casual relationships: knowledge,
trust, caring, interdependence, mutuality, and commitment
(see also Berscheid & Reis, 1998; Harvey &
Weber, 2002).
Brief descriptions of these six characteristics
are given in Table 11.1.
KNOWLEDGE Our closest friends and intimate partners
know more about us than anyone else. They
have extensive knowledge of our personal history,
deepest feelings, strengths, and faults. Intimate
knowledge in close relations develops through the
mutual self-disclosure of personal information and
feelings. Self-disclosure means revealing intimate
details of the self to others (Derlega, Metts,
Petronio, & Margulis, 1993). These details have to
do with our “true self” and the actual state of affairs
in our lives, which is likely different than the public
self presented to less intimate others in everyday
interactions. That is, we share things with intimate
others that we typically keep private when we are
in the company of strangers or casual acquaintances.
Sharing of personal information, in turn,
provides the basis for developing a deeper connection
than is typical in casual associations. To have
someone accept, like or love you, when they know
you as you know yourself, is powerful affirmation
of the essence and totality of self. This is one reason
why rejection by a good friend or romantic
partner may be so painful. The relatively complete
self-knowledge shared with another may make
rejection by that person feel profound. In contrast,
the rejection of someone who has minimal and partial
knowledge of us is likely to be less upsetting,
TABLE 11.1 Characteristics of intimate relationships
Knowledge—mutual understanding based on reciprocal self-disclosure.
Trust—assumption of no harm will be done by the other. Keeping confidences.
Caring—genuine concern for the other and ongoing monitoring and maintenance of relationship
Interdependence—intertwining of lives and mutual influence.
Mutuality—sense of “we-ness” and overlapping of lives.
Commitment—intention to stay in the relationship through its ups and downs.
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
242 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
because only the more superficial aspects of the
self are invested.
Research suggests that self-disclosure both signifies
and enhances mutual liking and affection. A
major review by Collins and Miller (1994) found
strong empirical support for three disclosure-liking
effects. (1) We disclose to people we like. (2) We
like people who disclose intimate self-information
more than those whose disclosures are less intimate.
(3) We like people to whom we have disclosed.
Research has also identified a strong tendency for
disclosure to beget disclosure, an effect called
disclosure reciprocity (Derlega et al., 1993; Miller,
1990; Reis & Shaver, 1988). People tend to both
reciprocate a disclosure and match its level of intimacy.
The process often begins with non-intimate
information and then moves on to more intimate
factual and emotional disclosures over time. If initial
conversations are rewarding, then over time both
the breadth (diversity of topics) and the depth (personal
significance and sensitivity) of topics that are
discussed increases (Altman & Taylor, 1973). This
movement of communication from small talk to the
exchange of more sensitive personal information is
considered central to the development of relationships.
Reciprocal self-disclosure captures the
process of how we get to know someone. The
knowledge that results from disclosure describes
what it means to know and be known by someone.
The power of self-disclosure to produce feelings
of closeness is dramatically shown by a study
that manipulated the intimacy of two conversation
partners (Aron, Melinat, Aron, Vallone, & Bator,
1997). Participants began their exchange as complete
strangers. They were first instructed to talk for
15 minutes about personal topics that were relatively
low in intimacy such as, “When did you last
sing to yourself?” During the second 15-minute interval,
topic intimacy increased to include things like,
“What is your most treasured memory?” During the
final 15 minutes, conversation partners were
instructed to talk about very personal topics invoked
by questions such as, “When did you last cry in front
of another person? By yourself?” “Complete this sentence:
‘I wish I had someone with whom I could
share . . .’ ” Compared to a group of non-disclosing
participants who engaged in 45 minutes of small
talk (e.g., “What’s is your favorite holiday?”), participants
in the disclosure condition reported feeling
very close to their conversational partners by the
conclusion of the experience. The researchers
compared closeness ratings for the group that
engaged in self-disclosure and the group that made
small-talk. Surprisingly, the experimental subjects
reported feeling closer to their experimental partners,
than one-third of the small-talk subjects
reported feeling to the person with whom they
shared the closest real-life relationship! This is
strong evidence for the importance of self-disclosure
to the development of intimacy.
Reciprocal disclosure is most evident at the
beginning of relationships and less so once relationships
are well established (Altman, 1973; Derlega,
Wilson, & Chaikin, 1976). In a new friendship, we
are likely to feel an obligation to reciprocate when a
person opens up to us with personal information. In
a budding romance, the disclosure may be quite
rapid and emotionally arousing, which may add to
the passion we feel. Telling a romantic partner your
deepest secrets and your innermost feelings is exciting,
especially when it is reciprocated. One of the
ironies of romance is that the better we know our
partners, the less we may experience the excitement
of disclosure. Baumeister and Bratslavsky (1999)
argue that passion and deepening intimacy are
strongly linked. They believe one reason passion
fades in long-term marriages is that spouses already
know most everything about each other.
In well-established relationships, intimacy is
sustained more by responsiveness than by reciprocity
(Reis & Patrick, 1996). That is, in our interactions
with best friends, family members, and marital partners,
it is less important to reciprocate and more
important to respond in a supporting, caring, and
affectionate manner (Laurenceau, Barrett, &
Pietromonaco, 1998). If you tell your spouse all your
angry feelings about your boss after a bad day at
work, you aren’t looking for reciprocation. You
don’t really want to hear about her or his bad day at
that moment. What you want is a sounding board, a
sympathetic ear, and expressions of care and empathy
for your feelings.
TRUST Mutual trust is another vital ingredient of
intimate and close relationships. To trust someone
means that you expect they will do you no harm.
Chief among the harms we are concerned about is
the breaking of confidences. When we open up to
other people we make ourselves vulnerable. It is a
bit like taking your clothes off and feeling selfconscious
about the less than perfect shape of
your body. In a network of friends or co-workers,
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 243
sensitive information can have damaging consequences
if someone tells others how you “really”
feel about someone—your boss, for example.
Violation of trust is damaging to relationships and
will likely lead the betrayed person to be less
open and more guarded in revealing personally
sensitive information in the future (Jones, Crouch,
& Scott, 1997). Trust is an essential ingredient in
close relationships, partly because it is a necessary
precondition for self-disclosure. We don’t disclose
to people we don’t trust.
CARING Caring means concern for and attention
to the feelings of others. We feel more affection
and appreciation for our close partners than for
most people. When we ask a casual acquaintance,
“how are you doing?” we most often expect and
receive an obligatory and cliché response: “Fine,”
“Hanging in there,” “Not bad,” and so forth.
Neither person expects a deep revelation about
personal feelings. At one level, in those passing
greetings, we aren’t actually asking for information
about how the person is really doing. We’re just
following polite social rules for greeting and
acknowledging people as we encounter them. In
our intimate relationships, the same question carries
different expectations. We expect and want a
more detailed and genuine response, especially if
things are not going well. And the other person is
expected to be more honest in describing how
they really feel, and not to pass off the question
with a stock answer used in low-intimacy
exchanges. Caring also involves all the little things
we do to express our appreciation and valuing of
a relationship: providing support in times of need;
recognizing special occasions like birthdays, holidays,
and anniversaries; inviting people for dinner
and other shared activities; and keeping in touch
with a phone call or an invitation to get together
over coffee or lunch. All these things reflect the
simple fact that more intimate relationships take
high priority in our lives. We have more invested,
so we take care to maintain the quality of our
close relationships.
INTERDEPENDENCE The lives of people in intimate
relationships are deeply intertwined. The mutual
influence of each person on the actions, feelings,
and thinking of the other is, for some researchers, a
defining characteristic of close relationships
(Berscheid & Reis, 1998). We typically care more
and give greater weight to the advice and judgments
our family members, friends, and spouses than we
do to people we know less well. This is particularly
true regarding self-relevant personal issues and
actions. We may consult an expert when our
computer malfunctions, but we are likely to seek the
support and advice of spouses and friends in times
of personal challenge, such as interpersonal
conflicts at work or caring for aging parents. Our
feelings and actions are also intertwined. The
emotional ups and downs of our intimate partners
affect our own emotional states and actions.
Intimate partners share in each other’s emotional
experiences. Compared to casual relationships, the
mutual influences characterizing close relationships
are more frequent and involve more areas of our
lives. And they are long-term. For example, most
parents find that they never stop being parents, in
terms of showing concern, giving advice, and offering
help and support to their children. Children
would likely agree that the influence of parents does
not end when they leave their parents’ home and
begin their own lives.
MUTUALITY Mutuality is another distinctive feature
of our closest relationships. Mutuality refers to feelings
of overlap between two lives—that is, the
extent to which people feel like separate individuals
or more like a couple. These feelings are revealed in
the language we use to describe our connection to
others. Plural pronouns (we and us) have been
found to both express and contribute to close relationships
(e.g., Fitzsimons & Kay, 2004). People use
“we” to signify closeness. In a developing relationship,
shifting from singular pronouns (e.g., “she
and I”) to plural (“we” or “us”) contributes to feelings
of closeness and mutuality.
Another way of capturing mutuality and feelings
of closeness is to ask people to pick among
pairs of circles that overlap to varying degrees (see
Figure 11.1). Called the Inclusion of Other in the
Self Scale, this measure has been found effective in
assessing interpersonal closeness (Aron, Aron, &
Smollan, 1992). Sample items from this scale are
shown in Figure 11.1. People simply pick the circle
pair that best describes a relationship partner specified
by the researcher (e.g., closest relationship, best
friend, spouse, etc.). The pictorial representation of
mutuality seems to be a direct and meaningful way
for people to express their feelings of closeness for
another person.
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
244 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Self Other
Self Other Self Other
Self Other Self Other
FIGURE 11.1 Sample Items—Inclusion of Other in the Self Scale
COMMITMENT Commitment is a final component of
intimate relationships. Commitment is a desire or
intention to continue a relationship into the future.
Research suggests that people associate commitment
with loyalty, faithfulness, living up to your
word, hard work, and giving your best effort (Fehr,
1988, 1996). In short, commitment means persevering
“through thick and thin.” This can be contrasted
with the lack of commitment shown by a “fair
weather friend,” who is there when things are going
well, but not when a supportive friend is needed
most. Successful friendships and marriages require
some amount of work. This means spending time
and energy maintaining closeness and working
through the inevitable conflicts and problems that
arise in long-term relationships. Close relationships
also require some degree of personal sacrifice and
compromise of individual self-interests for the good
of the relationship. Mutual commitment helps
ensure that relationship partners will do the work
and make the sacrifices and compromises necessary
to sustain an intimate connection.
Our most satisfying relationships will likely
involve all six characteristics: knowledge, trust, caring,
interdependence, mutuality, and commitment
(Miller et al., 2007). Both research and everyday personal
experience suggest that these characteristics
do, indeed, capture the essential elements of what it
means to be a close friend or intimate partner. If we
view these six features as ideal standards, then
degree of intimacy and closeness might be evaluated
according to the relative prominence of each
characteristic. Fehr (1996) argues that the difference
between a friend, a good friend, and a best friend is
largely a matter of degree. With our best friends, we
know more, trust more, care more, are more deeply
committed, and so forth.
It is important to recognize the diversity of
relationships. That is, close relationships are a bit
too complex to be captured by six ideal characteristics.
Deep affection and caring can exist without
passing the six-feature test. For example, the movie
Grumpy Old Men portrayed two elderly men
(played by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon) who
competed for a woman’s affection, constantly criticized
and insulted each other, and spent considerable
time planning and carrying out acts of revenge
that stopped just short of mayhem. Yet their relationship
was utterly endearing, caring, affectionate and,
despite its peculiar nature, loving. Fitting this longterm
friendship to the six characteristics would be a
challenge! In a similar vein, marriages come in all
shapes and sizes, reflecting the unique needs and
personalities of spouses. A marriage may “work”
despite a lack of fit to the ideal. Both of your textbook
authors, for instance, know of a successful
marriage based on high independence rather than
interdependence. That is, a couple that takes pride
in not exerting much influence on each other in
terms of careers, vacation travel, mutual friends, or
even shared activities at home. This may not seem
to many of us like a recipe for a satisfying relationship,
but they are both very happy with their marriage
and wouldn’t have it any other way.
It is worth keeping in mind that none of these
characteristics, in and of itself, guarantees an intimate
relationship. Self-disclosure, for instance, does
not guarantee intimacy or deep affection. Sometimes
when you really get to know a person, you find that
you really dislike them! Perhaps this has happened
with a relative or a co-worker with whom you’ve
had frequent and long-term contact. In a similar
vein, commitment might not signify a desire to work
on or enhance a relationship. A married couple in
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Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being 245
an unhappy marriage might make a mutual commitment
to stay together because they believe it is best
for their kids. In short, relationships are complex.
The six features of intimate relationships should be
considered general guidelines rather than hard-andfast
criteria.
Exchange and Communal Relationships
In addition to the six characteristics that define intimate
relationships, such relationships also differ in
how we think about and evaluate them. According
to Clark and Mills, relationships come in two basic
forms, exchange relationships and communal relationships
(Clark, 1984; Clark & Mills, 1979, 1993).
The two forms are related to different patterns of
thinking, evaluating and behaving in a relationship,
and to different levels of intimacy and closeness.
Clark and Mills provide evidence showing that, as
intimacy increases, people’s relationships shift from
an exchange form to a communal form.
Exchange relationships are typically more
formal, less personal, and in the beginning stages of
development. They are built on fairness and mutual
reciprocity. That is, in an exchange relationship
each party is expected to return favors in a mutual
fashion. I do something nice for you and you return
the favor. Exchange relationships are evaluated by
keeping mental track of what we have done for others
in comparison to what they have done for us.
We may feel satisfied if our exchange ratio is fairly
equal; conversely, resentment may build if we feel
we are putting ourselves out, but getting nothing
back. A sense of indebtedness might result from
believing we are “falling behind” in doing nice
things for another person.
Communal relationships are more typical
with our closer friends, romantic partners, and family
members. In these relationships, the tit-for-tat
reciprocation of exchange relationships would probably
feel a bit funny and might even be damaging.
What would you think if your best friend reciprocated
every one of your favors, like an accountant
who keeps track of assets and liabilities on a ledger
sheet? Clark and Mills (1979, 1993) found that while
tit-for-tat reciprocation of favors increased liking
among low-intimacy and formal relationships, the
same favor reciprocation decreased liking among
friends and in more intimate relationships. With our
long-term friends, family members, and spouses
we are in it for the long haul. We tend to pay more
attention to keeping track of others’ needs, rather
than logging all the specific things we have done for
them and they have done for us. We are highly
responsive to others’ emotional states and respond
appropriately. In communal relationships, we share
an ongoing mutual concern focused on the overall
quality of a relationship and the needs and welfare
of the other. We do not expect to be repaid for each
positive act.
The distinction between exchange and communal
relationships is not hard-and-fast. All relationships
probably involve some kind of exchange and
a close relationship does not necessarily mean that
each person takes a communal view (Clark & Mills,
1993; Mills & Clark, 2001). Some married couples
undoubtedly do focus on what they put in versus
what they get out of their marriage, although this
probably signifies a less healthy and less mature
relationship. And, thinking about costs and benefits
seems entirely appropriate when close relationships
become hurtful, conflicted, or dominated by one
person’s self-centered needs.
ON THE LIGHTER SIDE
Love and friendship are built on the same foundation.
Knowledge, trust, caring, interdependence,
mutuality, and commitment are the basic building
blocks of all close relationships. As these basic
ingredients develop, our thinking shifts from an
exchange perspective to a more communal perspective.
One reason relationships are so strongly
connected to health and happiness is that they represent
a sort of safety net to catch us when life
knocks us off balance. The depth of knowledge,
care, concern, and trust that characterize close relationships
provide confidence that we don’t have
to go it alone. Support from friends, family members,
and intimate partners in times of trouble has
been consistently documented as one of our
strongest coping resources (Berscheid & Reis,
1998; Ryff & Singer, 2000; Salovey, Rothman,
Detweiler, & Steward, 2000; Salovey, Rothman, &
Rodin, 1998; Taylor et al., 2000). However, relationships
also enhance our well-being when things
are going well. Most of the “good times” we have
in life involve shared activities and fun with our
families and friends. These good times translate
into more frequent positive emotional experiences
that, in turn, allow us to reap the benefits of positive
emotions shown in research and described by
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Positive Psychology, by Steve R. Baumgardner and Marie K. Crothers. Published by Prentice Hall. Copyright © 2009 by Pearson Education, Inc.
246 Chapter 11 • Close Relationships and Well-Being
Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory of positive
emotions (Chapter 3).
Teasing and Humor
Aside from sex, which is arguably more intense, but
far less frequent (at least when you’re older), laughter
is one of our most commonly experienced
sources of positive emotion. From childhood to old
age, laughter is a universal experience and it’s
almost always socia

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