Here’s how to be truly happy, according to the world’s top happiness study

If someone asked you which of the following choices would make for the most pleasant train ride you could possibly choose—spend your trip alone or strike up a conversation with one of the unpredictable strangers on the seat who is next to you?

Many of us choose to sit with our headphones on because the thought of talking to someone we don’t know is scary. We thought the worst, Dr. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School at Massachusetts General Hospital and co-author of the new book The Good Lifespeaking luck.

His book uses this question to illustrate how we expect social interactions to be negative based on the uncertainty of connection. However, in a study from the University of Chicago, people who decided to quit that conversation rated their commute as more pleasant than normal, ultimately surprising themselves, written by Waldinger and his co-author Marc Schulz.

“We seem to be bad at predicting the benefits of relationships,” the co-authors wrote. “A big part of this is the obvious fact that relationships can be messy and unpredictable. This mess is some of what prompts many of us to want to be alone.”

on The Good Life, Waldinger and Schulz distill what makes people find happiness from a study that began in 1938 following the lives of 724 Harvard students and low-income boys from Boston in the longest scientific study of happiness. in the world so far, according to researchers. The ongoing study, which has been expanded to include the spouses and children of the original participants, covers more than 2,000 people.

The researchers collected the participants’ health records every five years, conducted DNA tests along the way, and received questions about their lives and well-being every two years. About every 15 years, the researchers met the participants in person for an interview. The researchers followed the participants’ lives in hopes of finding the key to happiness and found that it was not, in fact, good health.

But one thing has become indisputable: strong relationships most accurately predict people’s happiness throughout their lives. They are “intrinsic to everything we do and everything we are,” the authors wrote.

Now, that doesn’t mean you have to start a conversation in a busy train car to have a happy life. Waldinger says he wants to show how easily, and unconsciously, we miss the opportunity to connect when swept up in quickly in life.

When participants in the happiness study were asked how they overcame adversity—illnesses, war memories, and losses—their connections always remained the basis of hope in their lives, whether they remembered the person who lent them money when they were nowhere to be found. to turn away or their fellow soldiers who floated them when they fought (many of the participants served in the war). As they got older, participants who shared regrets mainly lamented how little time they spent with family and friends and how much they cared about the seemingly trivial—success and money.

“It is not that success is not important and satisfying. So, “said Waldinger. “But if we sacrifice our [relationships]that is if we regret it, and live as bad a life as we can.”

If you’re feeling uneasy about the quality of your connections, you’re in luck because researchers say it’s never too late to improve your relationships, whether it’s with a new friend or someone you’ve reconnected with from our yesterday.

Work on your ‘social fitness’

Our social life needs exercise.

“Social fitness” is the ability to take stock of your relationships and work on them all the time, Waldinger said. Which of these energizes you? Who do you value and how can you include them in your life in new ways? Do you want to make new connections? Even people we consider close friends can begin to slide down the priority list as we age.

“We are growing. We are changing. Our lives are changing,” Waldinger said. “But some of it is that we can be intentional, to say, ‘this is the person I want to keep in my life.’ That is the intentional part I want to focus on. ”

The best way to improve your “social fitness” is to schedule time to build relationships in your week, like you would a gym session or a work meeting. Waldinger and Schulz are not just co-authors but friends, and they talk every Friday afternoon.

“We talk about our work and we talk about writing this book, but we talk about our children and we talk about things that bother us in our personal lives. We talk about everything,” he said. . “That phone call is automatic, and we have to cancel it if there’s a reason. It’s a big factor in how we stay close. “

It’s never too late to start looking for that time to carve out a quick weekly phone call with someone you miss and appreciate. Waldinger also encourages making a friend at work, by asking someone to hang out and get to know them because of an interest or by solving a professional issue together.

For people who want to make new connections, Waldinger suggests putting yourself in as many positions as possible. This can be especially true if you’re working from home, moving to a new city, or navigating a dynamic where you don’t have a close point of contact, but putting ourselves out there is our control, said Waldinger. Join a local book club or intramural group, call a friend even for a short time weekly or monthly, or plan your next visit with someone who lives far away from you.

Use technology to your advantage

Technology can bring people together who wouldn’t otherwise cross paths, like my mom and one of her best friends connected to an online support group for chronic pain sufferers. They now try to have monthly calls and even travel to each other’s hometowns sometimes. But technology can also dilute the image of happiness, taking away the luxurious and unrealistic highlights of people’s lives.

“We get messages all day, every day, about things that should make life good that don’t make life good,” said Waldinger, focusing on products and success.

Social media isn’t going anywhere, though it will inevitably take new forms, Waldinger said. Ask yourself how to be an active consumer rather than a passive one—which will help you avoid feelings of FOMO and using technology to cultivate relationships rather than feeling further away from them. Check yourself after 10 minutes online, and ask yourself how you feel, he says. Notice if you feel more energized and excited by connecting with others or sadder and more alone. This will give you an indication of which types of media benefit you and your relationships.

Cultivating the power of attention

One of Wadlinger’s Zen teachers once said, “Attention is the most basic form of love.” Giving someone our attention seems simple, but it’s easily something we avoid for a shorter-term mood boost like a ding notification.

“The most valuable thing we can give to another person is our undivided attention, but it’s harder to give that these days,” Waldinger said.

Stop, listen, and pay attention when you’re with someone. Waldinger says to take the pressure off trying to fully understand someone or solve their problem. Listening without having to jump in shows the other person that we care more than we think, she says.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help

Making new connections and cherishing old ones means accepting the vulnerability that comes with caring for someone and leaning on them when needed. If the greatest joy in life comes from our memories with others, we cannot forget the moment of having someone by our side because we do not want to open up or as if we are asking for too much.

“One of the hardest things for some people to learn is how to give help, and—more difficult for others as they get older—how to receive help,” the authors wrote. “…as we get older, we worry that we need too much and that people aren’t there for us when we really need them.”

Relationships are complicated, and they require vulnerability to maintain. It makes sense why we sometimes stray from true connection out of fear, but The Good Life reminding us that it is worth keeping and seeking—at any age.

“Relationships don’t make us happy all day, every day because nobody is happy all day, every day,” Waldinger said. “What they do is they create a basis of well-being. They create a safety net. They create a feeling that there are people in my life when I need them.”



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