Are you happy? Happiness has become something that we started taking for granted. We think that the more we possess, the happier we become. We pursue careers, money, as well as fame to feel happier, but the reality is that such happiness has a very short lifespan, and it does not contribute much to our lifelong dream to live happily, and fulfilled life.
You have probably heard about the Harvard study which ran for 75 years, in order to assess what makes us happy. It is a revolutionary study in psychology.
So, what do we really need in order to be happy? This question was something that the psychologists from Harvard were working on for such long time, and the results were finally in. The Harvard study followed the lives of two groups of men, and it now follows their Baby Boomer children, in order to understand how childhood experience reaches across decades to affect our health and well-being in middle age.
Because of the length of the research period, it has required multiple generations of researchers. Since before the Second World War, they have diligently analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans, as well as pored over self-reported surveys and actual interactions with these men, in order to complete the findings.
According to Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, there are three important secrets to a long, as well as happy life, and amazingly, those things have nothing to do with money.
This study started in 1938, and it originally focused on 700 men from different backgrounds in their early to late teens.
So, what are the three factors that are important to our happiness and wellbeing? According to Waldinger:
1. Good relationships protect our brains and bodies.
The clearest message which we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep people happier and healthier as well.
Yes, the biggest predictor of our happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.
Whether it is a material partnership or a positive relationship with a friend, a family member or co-worker, the key point of a good relationship is the capacity to rely on the other person. Having some person to count on in times when we need it means to have a healthier brain.
Waldinger said the following:
Those people that are in relationships where they feel they can count on the other person in times when they need them, their memories stay sharper for a longer period. People that are in relationships where they feel they cannot count on the other one are the people that have experienced earlier memory decline.
Such relationship that is based on trust, as well as reliability, does not necessarily mean that it is going to be smooth all of the time. Every relationship has ups and downs. The key factor in such relationships is the ability of the partners to rely on each other and feel protected.
2. The quality and not the quantity of the relationships matter the most.
It is not only the number of friends you have, and it is not whether or not you are in a committed relationship. It is the quality of our close relationships which really matter.
It is not important if you have huge group of friends, or if you are in the perfect romantic relationship, but it is the quality of the relationship which really counts – how much depth and honesty exists within them; the extent to which you can relax, as well as be seen for who you really are.
Living in conflict with the people with whom we spend our lives is very damaging for our health. High conflict marriages turned out to be the worst thing for the health of a person than a divorce.
3. The more socially connected a person is, the better, as well as the happier life that person has.
Waldinger also pointed out that social connections contribute to a happier, as well as healthier and longer life. Living life with people with whom you can connect, talk to and share your happy and sad moments, means living a high-quality life that is going to contribute to the long-term happiness that you have always wanted to have.
It turns out that people that are more socially connected to family, as well as friends, and community, are happier and physically healthier. They also live longer than people that are less well connected.
Opposite of social connection, loneliness can bring the opposite effect. Loneliness can occur even when we are surrounded by people, even with a partner. This feeling usually comes because of the quality of the relationships we nurture.
According to one Harvard psychiatrist, named George Vaillant, who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, there are two foundations elements to this: one of them is love, and the other is finding a way of coping with the life that does not push love away.
Thus, if you have found love, but you undergo a trauma such as losing a job, losing a parent, or maybe losing a child, and you do not deal with that trauma, you could end up coping in a way which pushes love away from you.
This is actually a quite good reminder to prioritize not just connection but also our capacity to process emotions, as well as stress. If you struggle with that, you should get a good therapist, join a support group, invest in a workshop, or even get a grief counselor. Also, take personal growth seriously so that you will be available for connection.
Finally, every one of us can have the money we have ever wanted, as well as a successful career, and can be in good physical health, but without loving relationships, you are not going to be happy.
Relationships are messy, and they are also complicated.
But he’s adamant in his research-backed assessment:
The good life is built with good relationships.