Why are more people not happy despite Harvard’s two-word guide?
Harvard ran the longest ever study on happiness. Here’s what you need to know.
You might not believe how simple it is to live a happy and fulfilling life. Well, that’s more than true per this 80-year-old Harvard study.
It’s literally two words: “good relationships”.
Here is how Robert Waldinger, Harvard professor of psychology and director of the study, summarises it in his 2015 viral TED Talk:
“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
So the question is, if it’s that simple to be happy, why are most of us aren’t.
In this issue of Be Curious, let’s delve into this topic.
Before we jump into why most of us are not happy despite the fact that it’s more dependent on the quality of our relationships and not fame, money, or status, let’s see what the study was all about and how it reached this seemingly simple conclusion.
Let me take you to the days of the Great Depression; year: 1938.
Researchers from Harvard University pick two groups of people:
The first were sophomores from Harvard University: 258
The second batch were children from troubled and disadvantaged families in Boston: 456
A total of 724 teenagers were the original subjects of this study, and more than 80 years later, almost all of them have passed away; few of those who are alive are in their mid or late 90s.
One of those teenagers who participated in the study went on to become the President of the United States.
Can you guess the President? It was none other than John F. Kennedy himself.
(Women weren’t in the original study because the College was still all male.)
So, yes, they were from all different walks of life, and life unfolded differently for each one of them.
This study is named the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
The researchers carefully studied their lives for decades, and tried to record as much as possible, and not just make them fill out a questionnaire every now and then.
They are surveyed every two years quite extensively. From their relationships to their medical records, from their lifestyle to their income. Nearly everything.
And here are three noteworthy findings that came out of the hundreds of thousands of pages of the study:
Social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills. The experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.
It’s the quality of close relationships that matters the most and not the number of friends you have or if you are in a committed relationship.
A good relationship doesn’t only protect our bodies, they also protect our brains.
The Other Boring Findings
Robert Waldinger, current director of the study, says in a Talks at Google event that there are no formulas for a happy life, unlike most of us think.
What we know was out there for centuries, but we try to confine them in 5 small steps or 6 different ways. It doesn’t work like that.
Apart from this healthy relationship factor, there are only traditional ways like having a good diet, not smoking or drinking, etc. that help in having a healthy life.
So why are we not able to lead healthier and more fulfilling lives despite the secret recipe of the dish known to us?
Our Want for Something Fancy
In this fast-moving and always in a hurry world, we are always looking for shortcuts.
How can the obvious be the right choice? Hell, no!
It must have to be something fancy. And until it’s not, we either don’t pay any heed to it or take it for granted.
And that’s the biggest reason we are unhappy.
Yes, our desires are unlimited, and yes, we don’t have time for like anything that might be worth it. But the catch over here is that we tell ourselves quite the opposite of this story.
“Just that one thing and I’ll be happy.”
“Oh, I will definitely do that, just not today.”
As if we had only one desire and we had time for everything.
But, unfortunately, that’s not true.
Are our goals right? Or do they need a little tweaking?
It’s quite simple to navigate our lives, until we do not complicate it ourselves, obviously.
A recent survey on millennials shows that over 80% said that getting rich is their most important life goal.
And another 50% of them said that being famous is a close second.
Look, I am not saying we should not have wealth and fame.
But not at the cost of peace of mind.
Robert said in a TED Talk that most of the surveyed people also thought more wealth and fame was the gateway to having a better life.
But as they entered their late 70s and 80s, it changed eventually, and they agreed that it was indeed a good relationship that held them tight in place when their life was having its fair share of ups and downs.
“Happiness is not something you postpone for the future; it is something you design for the present.” —Jim Rohn
In one sense, the easiest way to have a healthy and more fulfilling life is to cultivate good relationships—with your family, friends, and partners.
Instead of running for fancy stuff where we think happiness lies, it’s better to look out for small but meaningful experiences and connections.
Try to be a part of a community. Share happiness, as it compounds. And find your inner child.
Look out for what made you happy when you were younger? Pick up those hobbies, games, or other interests and pursue them.
These small and seemingly insignificant steps are what bring more joy to our lives.
There are also some other small steps we can take to boost our mood and happiness. But that we will discuss in some later versions of the newsletter.
That’s a wrap. I hope you liked today’s newsletter.