It’s quite possibly the most elusive, but sought-after emotion for all humans.
“I just want to be happy.”
“They lived happily ever after.”
“She’s as happy as a clam.”
“Do whatever makes you happy.”
If you ask most of us, we want our lives to be plagued by this kind of unbridled happiness…
But the question still remains, what makes someone happy?
Lucky for us, Harvard conducted a 75-year study on this ever-popular emotion and the takeaways are clear.
This week, we’ll dive into what the research says and flush out some tangible steps so you can take your happiness to the next level and draw others onto your happiness train!
THE SCIENCE OF HAPPINESS
Researchers began the Grant Study in 1938 by following 724 men who had all graduated from Harvard. All men were white. Most served in WWII. And while some achieved great success (like president John F. Kennedy) others failed to live up to their potential.
While there were many similarities between these men early in life, over time, the study found several differences that greatly affected the happiness levels among participants.
And, as is fitting here at Contact Mapping, these differences are summed up in 3 takeaways revolving around our favorite topic: Relationships.
Takeaway #1: Loneliness kills
Dr. Robert Waldinger, the most recent psychiatrist in charge of the study, says “People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”
Takeaway #2: Quality matters more than quantity
Happiness isn’t found in having 2,000 Facebook friends or filling your social calendar with 30 events each month. What really impacts our happiness and overall health is the quality of those relationships.
Waldinger says, "It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”
Takeaway #3: Healthy relationships keep the brain strong
"People who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people's memories stay sharper longer,” Waldinger says, “And the people in relationships where they feel they really can't count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline."
Want to be happier? Build better relationships.
TIPS AND TRICKS
If our happiness is tied to the quality of our relationships, then let’s talk strategy. Beyond the normal relationship-building strategies that we talk about often—being a good listener, improving your conversational skills, creating a diverse community—here are four tangible actions you can take to increase your level of happiness.
1. Choose gratitude: When you make a conscious decision to be grateful in a situation, you’re employing an antidote to the feelings of fear, jealousy, anxiety and disdain that—when left unchecked—manifest into sadness and depression.
By making gratitude a practice—something as simple as reflecting on 3 things you’re grateful for each day—you’ll see a marked difference in your overall feelings of happiness.
2. Be a giver: Like we talked about a couple weeks ago, volunteering can curb feelings of loneliness and sadness. The age-old saying, “It’s better to give than to receive,” isn’t just fluffy fodder that parents feed to ungrateful children, it’s scientifically true.
3. Fake it until you make it: This might sound counter-intuitive, but by pretending to be happy, you’ll find the feelings become more genuine over time. Smile right now as you’re reading this sentence. Or maybe even let out a small chuckle as we wrap this up. How do you feel?
The truth is our mental and emotional state are deeply tied to our physical state and the simple act of choosing to smile and laugh will increase your overall feelings of happiness.
4. Prioritize relationships: Swap out some screen time for face-to-face time. Reach out to a friend you haven’t chatted with in a while. Make amends with someone you’ve had tension with.
While you can take actionable steps to increase your feelings of happiness, the Harvard study shows us it’s our relationships that need the most care and attention to become the happiest version of ourselves.