What Does Science Tell Us About The Key Secret To Happiness
What are your goals? Become an entrepreneur. Climb the corporate ladder. Make more money. It may be to travel the world as a digital nomad. But the reason we write these goals down and strive to achieve them comes down to this big question. “How can I be happier?”
The disease of more
In our crazy busy digital world and modern society, we are often told that more is better. The media bombards us with messages telling us that if we have or buy “this” we will be happy. We are told that life will be a nirvana if we are, slimmer, fitter and more attractive. Modern society is often saying. More money, more stuff and….just more.
The more you have the more you have to worry about and the more anxious you become. You become afraid of losing it. That’s why we ensure things. We worry about having our stuff stolen or damaged. But often less is more. Keeping things simple and reducing clutter in our minds and in our physical world is key to “more” well being. And there is also a simple solution to being happier.
What does the science say about the secret to happiness?
In a TED Talk, Robert Waldinger revealed the secret to true happiness and also being healthier. And it is not about more toys and more stuff. And it is not about the external material factors that we often delude ourselves are the solution. In 1938 at Harvard College they tracked the lives of 724 men. And every year they asked about their work, home lives and their health. It is the world’s longest study in happiness. And the clearest message that we get from this 75-year research is this:
“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier“
So what were the key lessons?
And it isn’t about wealth, fame or working harder and harder.
So what are the 3 big lessons from this research:
- Social connections are good for us. Loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to the community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.
- It is not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the “quality of your close relationships1” that matters.
- Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship with another person in your 80’s is protective, and they feel they can count on the other person in times of need.
So the big question that arises is this. How can I improve the quality of my relationships?
So how do you nurture quality relationships?
Some of us learn this from our parents. Others learn from doing courses. Many learn from life by observing what works and what doesn’t. I learned from 2 sources. The first one was attending a 6-month communication course that taught me to be self-aware and only then to be aware of others. This taught me the art of active listening and focused attention. Listening in this way is to make it all about them. Not you.1 The other was spending 10 years with my partner that showed me the art and discipline of being generous and nurture friendships. She was my mentor on giving. I am thankful for that gift.
So here are 10 ways to grow quality relationships. Many are simple. And the list is almost endless.
- Be generous. Being frugal was part of growing up in our family and with parents born into the depression era, it was part of the environment. But the downside of frugality is that it can tip into being mean-spirited. Generosity is not just about money but also about giving time. One beautiful example is by the author AnnaHolmes.com who gives out her favorite children’s book “Miss Rumpus” to friends who have daughters.
- Aim for less screen time and more people time. With devices being a big part of our digital world the temptation and obsession are to be distracted by small screens. We can lock ourselves in dark rooms watching screens both big and small and forget about the importance of nourishing relationships with people that matter in our lives.
- Remember birthdays. This one is so simple but important. The act of remembering that one important day per year says something to everyone. One of the simplest ways to remember is to use your phone or computer calendar app to enter it in and set it up as a recurring annual event with a reminder.
- Call just to say “Hi”. Women are good at this. Men are generally not. If you are calling people most of the time just wanting something then the relationship is not going to survive or thrive.
- Spending time just going for a long walk together. Getting out of the house and just sharing nature means that you will have a conversation without worrying about hanging the washing, being tempted to do some cleaning or emptying the dishwasher. It’s just the two of you.
- Listen actively. Provide focused attention. If you have ever sat down with someone and their eyes are constantly flitting around the room says something. That you are not important. And put your mobile phone away.
- Follow through on your promises. When you commit to something make sure you do it. Words are empty but actions matter.
- Honor their time. That includes things like not turning up late. Time is a limited resource and nothing says more about how you value someone than wasting their time.
- Be positive. Constant complaining and negativity will suck the life out of any relationship.
- Don’t judge. None of us are perfect. Work on the habit of stopping yourself making judgments that will separate any relationship.
In essence, the practice of nurturing relationships comes down to self-awareness and good habits. It is simple but sometimes hard to do. Some of us aren’t well wired to carry it out. But the skill of nurturing relationships can be learned.
These skills and tactics can be applied to not just friends and family but work and business connections. And it doesn’t need to be complicated. You just need to focus on what works for you. Nurturing friends, holding them close. Telling them you love them and care through action and not just words. That is the secret to happiness.
The big bonus is this.
When tough times turn up (and they will), the skill of nurturing quality relationships will sustain you and carry you through to the other side.