What makes you happy?
Is it your home? Your job? Your friends? Your kids? Your dog? Is it the size of your checking account or the car that you drive?
We humans are a curious bunch and one thing we keep trying to pin down is “What makes people happy?” And while no one is guaranteed to be happy, the pursuit of happiness is among the top three inalienable rights we are endowed by our creator, along with life and liberty.
Study after study has explored the questions of what is happiness, what promotes happiness, and what we can do to be happier in our own lives.
And now, there may be an answer.
A 75-year study by Harvard says good relationships make us happier and healthier.
It’s not having a lot of friends, but having good friends. It’s not having a romantic relationship — the kind where your face lights up at the mere mention of their name and your heart skips a beat when you see you have a text or a call. It’s a relationship where you know you can count on that person to be there when the going gets tough that matters.
Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist, during a recent Ted Talk, noted many young people are focused on getting rich or becoming famous.
“We’re constantly told to lean into work and push harder and achieve more,” he said.
The 75-year study followed two groups of men over 75 years, with 724 participants. It began in 1938. Today, there are still 60 men alive and participating. They’re in their 90s today. Their children are now part of their study.
One group included Harvard graduates in 1938 who completed their studies and went on to serve in World War II. The second group was a group of teens from a Boston neighborhood with high poverty, many living in tenements in the city during the 1930s.
Their lives took many different paths — titans of business to worker bees, scattered around the world.
Every two years, the men were surveyed regarding their home lives, their work, their health — without any idea where the men would find themselves down the road. The study includes in-person interviews, medical record reviews and more. The wives joined the study several years ago.
“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier,” Waldinger said.
There have been three major takeaways from the study, he added:
• Social connections are good and loneliness kills
• It’s the quality of your close relationships that matter
• Good relationships protect our brains.
Really? We needed 75 years of data to tell us this? In the world of science, it’s not enough to say, logically, this is what makes people happy — you must prove it to empirical certainty, with graphs and footnotes.
We’re hardwired to look for the easy fix. “Take this and you’ll lose weight and be super happy.” Don’t bother with the fine print that says that weight loss comes when used in conjunction with a healthy diet and exercise.
Movies tell us “Love at first sight” is real and it ends with “happily ever after,” without showing us the hard work that goes into making a relationship last.
And we all have those friends we can go months without talking to and pick right up where we left off. I love these people dearly. But we’re only able to do that because, at one time, we built those friendships up. Now, when adulting makes for crazy schedules and we can’t see each other every week or even talk for long, we know the others are back there rooting for us. And we make the time to talk and visit when we can.
So make time for those you care about.
“Lean into your relationships,” Waldinger says.
“The good life is built with good relationships.”