Positive Psychology and the Importance of Close Relationships in TV Sitcoms: That 70s Show, Entourage, and How I Met Your Mother

Research has shown that securely attached people are more satisfied at work and feel more career/job security (as opposed to insecurely-attached people). They also do not allow work to jeopardize their personal relationships (Hazan & Shaver, 1990), and do not experience negative “spillover” between work and family life (Sumer & Knight, 2001). In contrast, people who are insecure in their relationships (either avoidant or anxious individuals) experience more fear of failure, and are more prone to resist challenging yet potentially rewarding activities (Elliot & Reis, 2003). In sum, people who are comfortable and secure in their relationships benefit from a significant psychological boost in their work ethic and courage.

People rely on their close friends and romantic partners to help them achieve and prosper through a process known as exploration from a secure base (Bowlby, 1988; Feeney & Van Vleet, 2010). Based on Feeney’s (2004) Circle of Security model, when romantic partners and close friends are encouraging and supportive, this facilitates people’s ability to accomplish goals, explore personal growth, learn, engage the environment, and live a fuller and richer life. According to Feeney and Thrush (2010), people demonstrate support for their romantic partners’ exploration by displaying availability, noninterference, and encouragement. Having a partner or close friend demonstrate these three behaviors is associated with greater personal goal persistence, enthusiasm for one’s activities, and successful performance.

In Entourage, Vince’s friends all have had a significant part to play in his star success. Eric performed an instrumental role as his manager, helping the tangible aspects of producing films. Drama (the older brother) filled a different supporting role, by taking his brother into his home (after Vince sold his house in order to fund a film). Turtle is the designated driver, and a “good-luck charm.” Vince does not hesitate to depend on his friends for support, which is the crucial ingredient that allows him to thrive. In return, Vince also supports his friends’ goal and ambitions (see Autonomy below).

On How I Met Your Mother, Ted experienced a period of uncertainty in his career as an architect, after he lost his job and attempted to start his own business (which failed). When Ted was presented with an opportunity to take a new career path, which seemed more challenging but possibly more rewarding, he expressed self-doubt. His friends encouraged him to take the chance and venture out into new territory, and it paid off. Ted discovered his true career calling with his friends’ support. On That 70s Show, the characters displayed similar interpersonal support. Kelso is the fun and free-spirited friend in the group, but also half-witted and reckless. No one expected him to amount to much in his life, until he was accepted into the police academy. His friends, Eric, Hyde and Fez were supportive and encouraging, but before leaving, Kelso felt overwhelmed and nearly gave up altogether. His friends came to his aid, and intervened with positive support, giving him the confidence to move forward with his career.

Another way in which confidence and competence can be boosted is through capitalization (Gable, Gonzaga, & Strachman, 2006; Langston, 1994). Capitalization happens when people share good news with close friends and romantic partners, who in turn respond in an active way so as to maximize the benefits of the event. Capitalizing on positive events increases positive emotion and psychological well-being over and above the actual events themselves (Gable, Reis, Impett, & Asher, 2004). Hyde (like Kelso), never had high expectations for himself, and when he received a high SAT score, he briefly mentioned it in passing to his girlfriend Jackie, not expecting a big reaction. Jackie, however, responded in an overtly positive way. She saw the high score as Hyde’s potential for success, so she cheered him on. Her encouragement propelled him to pursue bigger and better things in his life.

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