In a recent TED talk, Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger described some of the secrets to happiness, which was revealed in a recently released 75-year-long Harvard Study.
Apparently, we should value love above all else. It’s the main thing in life that brings us happiness. Once you see what really made people happy over three-quarters of a century, you won’t need to assume what will make you happy, and you may change your ways.
Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 to 2004, wrote about this important study with humour. He said, “The 75 years and 20 million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ “
1. Close Relationships
The men in both groups who had better relationships with family, friends and community were both happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. They also lived longer.
Lonely people had more health-related problems and reported feeling less happy. They also suffered from sleep disorders and more mental health issues. Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mothers were less likely to develop dementia later in life and were more likely to have professional success.
2. Know when to let go
As the people got older, they tended to focus more on what’s important to them and didn’t sweat the small stuff to the degree they did when they were younger, according to the project’s director, Dr Robert Waldinger.
Other research supports this mindset and has found that older adults are better about letting go of past failures. “They tend to realize how life is short and they are more likely to pay more attention on what makes them happy now,” says Dr. Waldinger.
You could do the same. What activities make you happy and what’s stopping you from doing them? Think back to your childhood. What did you enjoy when you were younger? Singing? Playing games? Doing certain hobbies?
“When you are older you have more opportunity to return to the activities you associate with happiness,” says Dr Waldinger. So begin that coin collection, join a choir, or play poker or bridge.
3. Quality (Not Quantity) of Relationships
Being in just any old miserable relationship will not make you happier. In fact, the study showed that people who were alone were happier than people in turbulent “high-conflict” relationships.
What’s more, the number of relationships mattered more to people in their 20s than it did to people in their 30s. Apparently, when people had a large number of friends it didn’t necessarily mean they were happier than a person with just a few truly close friends.
The Harvard Study has found a strong association between happiness and close relationships like spouses, family, friends, and social circles. “Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, which are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster,” says Dr. Waldinger.
This is also an opportunity to focus on positive relationships and let go of negative people in your life, or at least minimize your interactions with them.
If you need to broaden your social life, try volunteering for a favourite cause. Odds are you will meet more like-minded people. Volunteering also is another way to boost happiness by providing a sense of purpose.
In fact, a study published online May 19, 2016, by BMJ Open found that this benefit was strongest among people age 45 to 80 and older. Look for volunteering opportunities in your area that match your interests.
5. Stable, Supportive Marriages
Staying connected with people not only promotes better health, but it slows down mental decline.
Married people who’d never been divorced, separated or having “serious problems” until age 50 performed better on memory tests later in life than those who weren’t, the Harvard study found.
In general, marriage has been linked to a lowered risk of dementia.
Most surprisingly, the study revealed that while most of us consider acquiring wealth and working hard as the key components of happiness, it turns out that things are far simpler than we assume.
Relationships, with friends, family and the community surpassed all other factors in bringing happiness to the study participants throughout the 75 years they were surveyed.
As for careers, having a meaningful connection to the type of work you are doing is more important than achieving traditional success (i.e. wealth).
6. Come on, get happy
So what are the right choices for happiness? You may find inspiration from the participants in one of the longest-running studies on happiness.
The project has followed 724 men since they were teenagers in 1938. (Approximately 60 men, now in their 90s, are still left.) The group consisted of men from various economic and social backgrounds, from Boston’s poorest neighbourhoods to Harvard undergrads. (President John F. Kennedy was even part of the original group.)
Over the years, the researchers have collected all kinds of health information, and every two years they ask members questions about their lives and their mental and emotional wellness. They even interview family members.
They found that specific traits and behaviours were linked with increased levels of happiness across the entire group.