Happiness, as the dictionary defines it, is the state of being happy. It is synonymous with joy, bliss, glee, felicity, jubilation, and elation, to name a few. I am positive you and I, and everybody else, want to be happy! That is why all of us, throughout our lifetime, seek out the secret to happiness, and we commit ourselves to its pursuit. We try to find the things that will lead us to bliss. And we learn to let go of the things that no longer spark joy.
But, what REALLY makes a person happy?
The Harvard Study of Adult Development conducted the longest study of adult life. The Grant and Glueck Studies endeavoured to find out the key to long-term happiness. At the start, the founders of the study asked:
For more than 75 years, they tracked the lives of 724 men as it unfolded. Starting in 1939, they gathered two groups of men: 268 sophomores from Harvard College and 456 teenagers from Boston's most disadvantaged communities. The two groups answered questions about their work, home life, and health. In addition, the researchers conducted medical examinations, parental interviews, blood tests, brain scans; and recorded videos of their conversations with their wives and interaction with their children. By 2015, 60 of the original subjects are still alive and are still participating in the study in their 90's.
Psychiatrist and Psychoanalyst Dr Robert Waldinger, who is the director of the Department and the fourth director of the said study, shared their findings from the research:
Asked what to invest in their future selves as teenagers, most of them responded with fame and fortune; and to work hard to achieve these.
From being teenagers, subjects eventually moved to become lawyers, factory workers, doctors, and bricklayers. One even came to be the President of the United States! In time, some climbed up the corporate ladder others fell in the opposite direction. Some of them succumbed to alcoholism, and some perished along the way.
After more than seven decades of research, documentation, and analysis, Dr Waldinger stated this remarkable conclusion:
"The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period."
Isn't that amazing?!
All this time, happiness is staring us right in the face! We wake, sleep and eat with them. Some of them we constantly call or text on the phone. We share a laugh or even a squabble; and work and meet with them for company, charity, or environmental events. We do all these things with our family, friends, and other persons in our circle.
Some of us might already know it or might have guessed it, keeping people close to our hearts creates happiness. Dr Waldinger further shared the three big lessons from the study.
Social connection is good. Isolation is toxic. The more socially connected people are happier, healthier, and they live longer. Loneliness kills. Greater physical, emotional and neurological decline are seen in lonely people as early as mid-life.
The quality of our life is directly proportional to the quality of our relationships. Even in the company of a crowd or in a seemingly successful marriage, a person can be lonely. Dr Waldinger adds that "It is not the number of friends you have; it's the quality of your close relationship that matters… Living amid conflict is bad for the health; living within a good, warm relationship is protective." Even bickering couples maintained a sense of stability and well-being if they felt like they could depend on one another. The study further revealed that the most satisfied couples at 50 were the healthiest at age 80.
Good relationships don't just protect our body; they protect our brain. The subjects in a securely attached relationship demonstrated sharper memories. At the same time, those who had no one to count on showed an early decline in memory. In addition, good relationships played a significant role in pain management. Significantly, subjects in their 80's that had maintained solid connections and relationships had a more positive outlook despite being in physical pain.
Most of us are already aware that social connections and meaningful relationships lead to happiness. So why don't we give our relationships the utmost care and attention they truly deserve? It's a good thing love conquers all. It is unconditional. But for love to grow, you need to work to nurture your relationships: with your spouse or partner, family, friends, and others in your circle of happiness.
An extraordinary relationship begins with trust. Without trust, love cannot grow. Trusting your partner means that you rely on them to always love you and remain faithful to you. You feel comfortable and safe when you are with them. To build trust, be honest, admit mistakes and be forgiving of one another.
Gratitude lays the foundation for deep relationships. It's what we put into relationships, not what we get out of relationships, that matters. True love is about giving without any expectation of anything in return. When you focus on what you can give rather than what you can get, the relationship becomes a gift to you both.
Love requires us to be able to depend on one another while independently seeking growth. Mutual support is essential for a relationship to thrive. Be there for one another. Share each other's ups and downs. All these results in increased self-worth, self-confidence, and a more remarkable ability to cope with life's challenges -- together.
How do you keep the fire of love burning in your romantic relationship? Through intentional alone time such as regular date nights. Though it involves planning, time, and money, it is one of the best things you can do to keep the love alive. It allows you to see each other at your best, gives you quality conversations, increases intimacy, and builds sweet and beautiful memories to look back on.
Family always comes first. Positive family relationships are built on quality time, communication, teamwork, and appreciation of one another. Use the everyday time together to exchange stories and ideas. Like the parents' date night, it pays to include regular fun family time such as a Saturday ball game or a movie night. The kids will feel secure, seen, heard, and loved. Holding standard family time will boost their social connections and happiness in the long run.
The workplace is not solely a place for work. There can be recreation, sports, and travelling enjoyed together among colleagues during work hours or on official company affairs. Workmates can become friends, especially upon retirement. So savour those shared lunches while getting to know your colleagues. Be open and offer more of yourself in chit-chats during gruelling beat-the-deadline meetings and regrouping sessions.
Most long-term friendships started just around the block in any neighbourhood. So your community might be the most convenient place to make social connections. All you have to do is hang out on your porch or lawn and flash a smile to your neighbours passing by. Go to that backyard barbeque, or invite someone over to your place. Get to know your neighbours and bond with them as a family.
Communication is key to a healthy relationship. But it does not mean that you are always the one talking. When you connect with your loved ones, take the time to be quiet and listen. Listen not only with your ears but with your heart as well. Whether you are in the phase of getting to know them or taking your relationship to the next level, maintaining open lines of communication builds trust, respect, and closeness.
Maintaining a relationship can be a breeze when you think about the likely reward in the long run – happiness! Mark Twain said, "There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickering, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, but an instant, so to speak, for that." For the pursuit of happiness, for ourselves, and to share it with others, the best time to take action is now.
When was the last time you had a chat with your college best friend?
You used to share your deepest secrets and greatest dreams with each other. So pick up the phone and call or text them to catch up.
Are you feeling burrowed deep in the virtual world?
Replace screen time with people time. Put that phone down when you are spending time with others. Nothing compares to seeing your loved ones in person: seeing their smiles, listening to their voices, and feeling their touch when they pat your back or put their arm around you.
Do you have a family or relative you haven't spoken to in years? Reach out and plan an outing with the kids soon!
Is your excess emotional baggage becoming too heavy? Is holding that grudge wearing you down?
Ask yourself, what was that thing that you've been fighting about? You might have forgotten already. Find it in your heart to forgive and forget. Sincerely apologize and reconnect. It will put back that sweet smile on both of your faces.
The study did not mention love as a predicting factor for happiness. But I surmise the results strongly pertained to love when it zeroed in on good relationships and what keeps us happy and healthy. I believe that deep and meaningful relationships are always made out of love.
The study's outcome shows that deep love can lead to an extraordinary life. As George Sand put it, "There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved." She was right. This quote resonated with me ever since I read about the 75-year study about happiness.
Allow me to share again three of my best tips for a successful and loving relationship, which we now know ultimately leads to happiness:
Visualize the perfect relationship
Use the Law of Attraction to manifest love and successful relationships. Vividly think about the relationship and friendship of your dreams. Feel the happiness that emanates from you in that picture. Soon, it will be your reality!
Be the person you want to see in your partner
You don't need to change your partner or their ways to be happy in a relationship.
Instead, validate the attributes you want to see in them. Emulate the characteristics of your ideal partner or friend. Because like attracts like and love begets love, when the other person notices the tremendous changes in you, they will consciously or unconsciously do the same.
Keep in mind that love is an action word
In romantic, friendly, and family relationships, always remember that love is a verb, not a noun. You have to work on it to make it work. Nurture your relationships by taking the time out to connect with them.
There's a mountain of ways to be happy. A quick Google search of "how to be happy" would glean about 5,270,000,000 results. But there's no need to look further. Instead, pay attention to the people in your circle of happiness. Who are they? They can be your spouse, parents, kids, friends, colleagues, or neighbours. Aim to give them joy, and you will end up shooting the arrows of happiness back to yourself.
Are you ready to start your journey towards more happiness, love and abundance?
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