What actually makes us happy? Happy at work, happy at home; not just fine but happy. Is what makes me truly happy different from what could make my neighbor or coworker happy? Or do we all have a commonality of what could really make us happy in our lives?
This is a question that might only be asked of ourselves in times of personal reflection or even frustration. Most of us have asked these questions in our quest for happiness. Looking around, there are blatant attempts by advertisers to convince us that their products will make us happy. We compare ourselves to others, assuming their way to be happy, can be our own as well. Our assumption that they are happy could even be wrong. And there are some who genuinely feel unworthy of happiness all together.
A study called The Grant Study is one of the longest running studies on human development. This study has run since 1938 and “has followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men for 75 years.” A study of this magnitude is valuable not only due to its length but its range. They collected data on practically everything – physical traits, family relationships, financial status, health, diet, habits, IQ, and much more. The subjects of the study were never meant to be an accurate slice of society but were educated young men of some privilege. Many of them had incredible success. Among the subjects are senators, industry leaders, authors, newspaper editors, business tycoons and even (we now know) John F Kennedy. But, some were disappointments too. All were studied extensively. By the way, President Kennedy’s files will be closed until 2040 – then we are sure someone will write another book on the Kennedys!
George Vaillant was the director of the study for more than 30 years. At the conclusion of the study he published a summary of his insights. He sighted seven major factors that will contribute to healthy aging and happiness. They are:
- Stable marriage
- Healthy weight
- Not smoking
- Not abusing alcohol
- Employing mature adaptations
He concluded that good social skills and lifetime coping methods are crucial to overall health and well being but the most telling aspect of the study came when analyzing the subject’s relationships and how that determined their life satisfaction. There were direct links between having a warm relationship with a mother and financial success, mental health in old age, and career effectiveness (among others). A warm relationship with father manifested itself in a decreased likelihood towards adult anxiety, and an increased ability to play as well as a general feeling of happiness.
For all of us feeling like we are on an elusive quest for happiness, Vaillant’s final thought is remarkable. He finished by saying ““The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ ”
Relationships are the key to happiness. “No Man is an Island” and nor should he be – he cannot achieve happiness without warm relationships. But certainly some relationships are easier than others. When we think about the findings of this study, happiness is in the development of relationships and the moments we connect as people.
Good relationships in the workplace are important to the well being and productivity of the whole. But, developing those relationships with coworkers not of our own choosing, can give us skills that are valuable to our home relationships as well. How many times at work have you had to stop and think before saying something you might regret? Wouldn’t that be helpful at home? This skill set really does not need to be compartmentalized because relationship skills work everywhere. Maybe, instead of looking at having to be nice to that coworker, we could instead see it as an opportunity to gain a little more happiness.
So, from the Broadway musical You’re A Good Man Charlie Brown and cartoon by Charles Shultz:
“Happiness is… morning and evening. Day time and night time too. For happiness is anyone and anything at all that’s loved by you.”