Let’s Discover the Key to Happiness, Together!
For decades, Harvard researchers have grappled with the elusive question: What is the key to happiness?
Last week, my brother graduated from high school and my sister graduated from middle school. Before driving home to attend their celebrations, I scrolled through the “Speaking of Psychology” podcast page and one episode instantly caught my attention, promising to unveil the secret to living a happy life. The podcast discussed the Harvard Study on Adult Development, the longest-running study on human happiness that has been following participants for over 85 years. The study began with 724 men back in 1938 and has grown to include their spouses and more than 1,300 of their children. After years of interviews, surveys, medical exams, and observation, researchers found that ongoing happiness is not heavily associated with money, career success, food, or exercise. Instead, they have found that the key to living a long, healthy, and happy life is close, positive relationships, which affect both our emotional well-being and our physical health.
As fate would have it, at my sister’s middle school graduation ceremony the principal gave a speech highlighting the lasting value of relationships, be it with friends, teachers, or colleagues. She mentioned how even if these connections are fleeting, they still play a meaningful role in shaping our identities, which is why it's so important to be kind to everyone we meet and be thoughtful in every relationship we encounter. It struck me how most of her speech was about the importance of meaningful relationships, as if she had listened to the same podcast I just had. However, what really caught me off guard was when one of the speakers at my brother’s graduation a few days later specifically mentioned the decade-long Harvard study on happiness. He gave the students three pieces of advice based on his interpretation of this study that I think we could all use: embrace the opportunity to put yourself out there, recognize that you can’t do life alone, and never forget to call your parents.
Although about half of our happiness is affected by our genetic makeup, the choices we make in our daily lives also have a large impact on our level of happiness. We have the opportunity to build strong relationships and broaden our social circles, in turn, cultivating happy lives.
To help you cultivate connections with others, here are some quick, valuable tips:
● Volunteer for your favorite cause. Engaging in volunteer work not only has substantial effects on the community (as discussed in Rishil Kadakia’s article “The Power of Volunteering”), but it also allows you to connect with others who share your passions and values.
● Reach out to an old friend to catch up. Taking the initiative to reconnect with someone allows shared memories and experiences to restore meaningful connections.
● Invite a friend to coffee or lunch. Spending quality time with friends allows you to strengthen your bonds and learn more about one another.
● Make an effort to connect with others in person. Talking to someone face-to-face fosters an environment of direct communication, body language, and the release of hormones like oxytocin, which promote feelings of attachment and security.
● Have an open mind when conversing with someone. Being empathetic toward others allows for trust to develop in a relationship.
● Be an active listener, make eye contact, pay attention, and ask questions to create meaningful dialogue and strengthen interpersonal connections!
As the Harvard Study on Adult Development highlights, the key to a fulfilling life lies in cultivating positive relationships. By actively seeking connections and nurturing existing ones we can unlock the secret to ongoing happiness! The more positive relationships we have, the closer we are to a happier and more connected world.
Solan, M. (2017, October 5). The secret to happiness? Here’s some advice from the longest-running study on happiness. Harvard Health Blog. https://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/the-secret-to-happiness-heres-some-advice-from-the-longest-running-study-on-happiness-2017100512543
Speaking of Psychology: The secret to living a happy life, with Marc Schulz, PhD (K. Mills, Interviewer). APA. https://www.apa.org/news/podcasts/speaking-of-psychology/happy-life