What really matters!
Life is not easy but is it as complicated as we think?
The science behind
happiness & long life.
As humans we are often torn between seemingly competing goals. We want to be successful, we want to be happy, we want to be recognized and appreciated, have an easy life, live healthy, travel the world, enjoy life and so much more.
All of these goals are not easy to combine. Easy life and successful business life often do not go hand in hand.
So where do you set the priority?
What people really want is to be happy and to live long so you can enjoy your happiness as long as possible.
Everything else will eventually fall into place. So how to achieve that? There is now a solid scientific body of work to help us focus on what really matters.
happiness & long life
Most people are aiming for wealth, financial independence and powerful jobs with impressive titles.
Seems all this does not matter so much.
They live healthy, try to do a lot of sports, stop smoking, reduce alcohol and have a good sleeping pattern.
This all contributes to happiness and long life but something else is more important. The best predictors of a long and happy life are:
Integration into your social environment (the people you deal with everyday - not close friends - like at work or in the neighborhood where you live) and
Close Relationships (the people you can really count on like your partner, lifelong friends)
For more details checkout Susan Pinker's TED Talk on 'The secret to living longer may be your social life'.
In other terms, close relationships and social connections keep you happy and healthy. Basically, humans are wired for personal connections.
It is not the quantity of relationships that counts but the quality.
It is the Satisfaction with relationships according to Robert Waldinger - Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development - in his Ted Talk on 'What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness'.
He elaborates that good close relationships protect the body and the brain. They keep you mentally active and healthier.
'Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.'
Don't misunderstand that good relationships are the only things that matters. But they have proven to be most influential.
They also require most work. If you are not happy at work and do not feel that you belong then this will have a profound impact on you and your health.
The data is also very clear that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.
Therefore relationships require work and need to be prioritized. If you hit a hard patch like losing a job or losing a loved one you, need to ensure not to take it out on your relationships and push them away.
Or if you are stressed at work or because of monetary problems then all of this can have a strong negative impact on your relationships as you will be tense and not able to focus on them or even simpler you will not make the time for them.
Still they are more important to your health than regular exercise or a successful job sitting alone in some hotel room in a city where you do not know anyone.
Other important factors
We mentioned that your relationships are more important than doing sport but still the Harvard Study also proves that physical exercise is important.
One of the previous Directors George Vaillant confirmed six factors that predicted healthy aging based on the group of Harvard men which he documented in his book 'Aging Well'.
Absence of alcohol abuse and
Having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, and
Enjoying both a healthy weight and
A stable marriage (part of the relationships).
George Vaillant summarized it best in his quote: 'When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.'
Know when to let go
Back to the above mentioned coping mechanisms to deal with life's ups and downs...
Older people tend to focus more on what’s important to them, and don't get hung up with the small stuff to the degree they did when they were younger, according to the project’s director, Dr. Robert Waldinger.
Other research supports this mindset, and has found that older adults are better about letting go of past failures. “They tend to realize how life is short and they are more likely to pay more attention on what makes them happy now,” says Dr. Waldinger.
This is very important to not impact relationships and quickly focus again on what really matters.
WHAT ABOUT CONNECTING ONLINE AND SOCIAL MEDIA...
There is a lot of controversy about the impact of social media.
One widely cited 2012 study conducted by researchers at Utah Valley University of 425 undergraduates found that the more they used Facebook, the more they felt that others were happier and had better lives than they did.
The researchers named the study, 'They Are Happier and Having Better Lives Than I Am: The Impact of Using Facebook on Perceptions of Others’ Lives.'
Since then things have evolved a bit as Robert E. Kraut, a researcher at Carnegie Mellon University has shown.
Kraut’s more recent research has found that today most people spend their time online communicating with people with whom they already have strong ties.
And this makes a huge difference. In those cases the findings are unequivocal: Online connection decreases depression, reduces loneliness, and increases levels of perceived social support.
Almost like multi channel marketing using more channels to communicate with your close relationships actually enhances the offline relationships.
Online interactions, like offline ones, are more fulfilling if they are with people with whom we have strong ties.
It is different with strangers where the online communication mean a lot less.
But most of us use technologies to communicate with people we already know.
And that helps relationships grow stronger. 'Communication online has the same beneficial effects that communication offline would have if we already know people,' Kraut says.
In fact, his research has found that the more different kinds of media that people use to interact, the stronger their relationships tend to be.
People who don’t just talk on the phone but also see each other, and email each other and communicate through four or five different mediums, tend to have stronger relationships with one another than those who communicate through fewer mediums, he has found.
A reason might be that with our close relationships we do not only show-off the successes and great things we do but also share failures and mishaps.
I think for many of us this will show that we have to work on our priorities. Deep trusting relationships and social integration are most important.
In case you still struggle with letting the material world go check these facts from the Harvard Study:
Those who scored highest on measurements of "warm relationships" earned an average of $141,000 a year more at their peak salaries (usually between ages 55 and 60).
Men who had "warm" childhood relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than men whose mothers were uncaring.
So next time you do not have time for spouse, family, friends, think again.
We have added dedicated space in our daily planner for relationships, so we can give this the right priority.
Robert Waldinger: adultdevelopmentstudy.org.
Wikipedia: Grant Study.
Matthew Solan: The secret to happiness? Here’s some advice from the longest-running study on happiness. Harvard Health Publishing, October 2017.
Adam Piore: What Technology Can’t Change About Happiness. Nautilus, September 2015.
Liz Mineo: Good genes are nice, but joy is better. The Harvard Gazette, April 2017.
Melanie Curtin: This 75-Year Harvard Study Found the 1 Secret to Leading a Fulfilling Life. inc.com, February 2017.
Rachel Zimmerman: Why To Exercise Today: To Beat Back The Toxic Stress Of Life. wbur.org, September 2014.