September has officially become the month to forget over the years. Greenday put it simply when they sang the tune: “Wake me up when September ends.”
Death, sickness, sadness, tragedy, heartache – September has never really been our family’s month. So I went on a soul seeking mission to find what makes us humans happy. I think we can all agree that in this chaotic world, it’s difficult to figure out what’s most important to prioritise. It’s overwhelming to maintain a career, have a personal life, tend to our social media feeds, and keep up to date with our friends.
So what should we be prioritising in terms of our time and attention in order to live a happy and fulfilling life?
For 75 years a Harvard study has kept track of the physical and emotional well being of two groups of people: 456 individuals growing up in a poorer part of Boston from 1939 to 2014 and 268 individual graduates from Harvard’s classes from 1939 to 1944.
Since before the Second World War, researchers have analysed blood samples, conducted brain scans and conducted surveys. They have also interacted with the individuals to compile a series of findings.
What’s the main conclusion?
According to the director of the Harvard study, there’s one thing that surpassed everything else in terms of importance for living a life of happiness and fulfilment:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how much status or authority you’ve acquired at your job or how many followers you have on social media. Nor does it matter how successful you’ve been.
None of this matters.
What matters most for living a life of happiness and fulfilment is, basically, love.
More specifically, the study shows that having someone to rely on helps your nervous system to relax. It keeps your brain healthier for longer, and reduces the amount of physical and emotional pain that you’re brain and body has to process.
“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship. It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
The key point is this:
It doesn’t matter if you have a huge social group, or if you’re in what you consider to be a “perfect” romantic relationship. What matters more is the quality of the relationships you have. How much vulnerability and depth you show in your relationships. How safe you feel sharing with your loved ones. The extent to which you can truly relax and just be yourself.
George Vaillant is the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, and said there are two key elements to the findings of the study:
“One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
Therefore, if you’ve found love in terms of having a relationship, for example, but you subsequently go through a traumatic experience, then what matters most is dealing with the trauma in a way that doesn’t push your loved ones away.
There’s a really important lesson in the study. It’s important not only to prioritise your connection with loved ones, but also your ability to process emotions and stress.
Because the evidence is clear. In the end, you can have all the success in the world, but if you’re not in a loving relationship, then you won’t be happy.
“Relationships are messy and they’re complicated. But the good life is built with good relationships.”
There are countless ways to live life, but what if one way was better than others? What if there were certain “secrets” to ensuring greater happiness, and we could reveal those secrets to you right here, right now?
Sounds like the tagline of some hippy-dippy self-help book, doesn’t it? But the secrets to happiness may actually be found in the incredibly in-depth study from Harvard.
Now, here are just a few secrets revealed through the study that tell us what it takes to live a happy life.
Value love above all else.
Don’t underestimate the power of love, because it’s the key to happiness.
The 75 years and 20 million dollars expended on the Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’
That’s right, you heard it straight from the horse’s mouth — love is everything. A person can have all the luxuries in the world, but without love, they mean very little.
And not only do healthy relationships serve as an indicator for overall life satisfaction, but they also are an indicator for career satisfaction, stating that having a meaningful connection to the type of work you’re doing is more important than achieving traditional success.
More money and power does not mean more happiness.
Another study points out that it’s not the amount of money you make that’s important to your happiness, but how you spend it.
So there you have it, money can’t buy happiness.
The positive effect of intelligence also plateaus.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not to say intelligence is not a contributor to happiness.
But according to the Study, your IQ does not really contribute to your emotional well being above a certain level. The study found that those with IQs between 110 and 115 were generally no more or less happy than those with IQs higher than 150.
Now, that’s some food for thought.
You might assume a person born with a silver spoon is more likely to experience happiness than someone born into a less advantageous background, but that’s not necessarily the case.
In an anecdote told in the Huffington Post, a story was recounted of a participant who rated the lowest for future stability. This person had attempted suicide before participating in the study. Yet, by the end, it was reported they were one of the happiest participants because they spent their life searching for love.
So I guess I’ve got you to thank, September. Over the years you’ve caused heartache due to many unforeseen life events. But it’s only because I love my loved ones so goddamn much. You may be in pursuit of something in life that you think will make you happy, but 9 times out 10 it’s only a byproduct of the loving relationships that you maintain.
And at the end of the day, love is love. Don’t tell someone how to love or who to love. And don’t cover up the fear of love, of opening your heart with hate. We witness this tragedy around the world every day it seems.
When someone else’s happiness is your happiness, that’s love.