One of the largest questions that the self-improvement industry tries to answer is what makes for a happy life. Philosophically, it’s akin to what is the meaning of life and trying to find your life purpose. While it’s incredibly thought-provoking, self-help gurus have used that for decades to the point that it’s a trope. Even on a philosophical level, trying to find the meaning of life tends to be a pointless pursuit.
Instead of delving into the mysticism of it all, I like to deal with hard facts. Things that we do know for certain can lead to happy, long, and healthy lifestyles. It often leads to things that are pretty obvious – such as working out on a daily basis for better health – however, it’s so often we miss out on some key and obvious pieces.
Such is the case with the Harvard Study of Adult Development. In 1938, the study started to track 268 Harvard sophomores and still tracks them to this day – provided there are some still around. It’s the longest-running study on this topic and there are 3 very important and powerful findings you should know.
#1. It’s All About The Friends You Keep
Connections play a huge centrepiece in everyone’s lifestyles and this study goes to prove that thoroughly. Looking over the lives of these individuals, the relationships they had in their 50s played a critical role in their health in their 80s.
The study director, Robert Waldinger, said:
“It wasn’t their cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
But even before your 50s, making friends as an adult is crucial well beyond this particular reason. The only problem is that making friends as an adult is very challenging compared to when we were kids.
As we grow older, our interests change and we realize that certain individuals aren’t people that we really value. Beyond that, social media has also affected us emotionally to the point we struggle to interact properly.
The key to keeping in mind to growing friendships is that they are much like intimate relationships: they require a lot of sacrifices and huge commitments. It’s the one thing you can’t optimize or lifehack your way into either.
It takes time, but clearly, the payoff is well worth it.
#2. Loneliness Is Killer To A Happy Life
Even if you’re an introvert, we are still very social creatures. In fact, I’d argue introverts are probably more social than extroverts.
Countless studies have been made to show how isolation takes a massive mental toll on us and we become less happy in the process. There are even declines in health that we experience if we don’t feel connected.
Naturally, this study also covered the effects of alcohol and smoking which are pretty bad. However, loneliness is just as negatively impactful as doing one or both of those things.
What’s interesting about this particular finding is that as we grow older, the easier it becomes for us to spend time alone. That causes health problems, but introverts do make a point and there is a case to be said about being alone.
Whether it’s from natural circumstances or you carve out time specifically for it, embracing solitude is important. Just be sure that you have quality and deep social connections.
#3. The Quality Is More Important Than Quantity
When it comes to loneliness, one aspect that is overlooked a lot is the fact people think loneliness is a sign that you have a lack of friends. That’s not always the case as you can be surrounded by people but still feel pretty lonely.
In those circumstances what’s often missing is the depth of a friendship or connection. A few deep bonds with people are healthier for you than having a few hundred acquaintances or unhealthy connections.
Beyond this, there is a case to be made for things beyond connections to. Materialism is strong because people get in their heads that having a lot of wealth, or stuff is essential. That’s not always the case and obsession with materialism can result in several problems and unhappiness as well.
A Happy Life Is Obvious
Even though these things are painfully obvious, people clearly don’t account for these things. We often pursue status and fame despite knowing that what matters most is the company that we keep.
This trend has been incredibly obvious to me since being in self-improvement for years now. Though this isn’t something to beat yourself up about. Again, so many solutions to growing in your life can come down to making small changes or remembering these simple things.
The best thing you can do moving forward is if you do want more happiness in your life, begin to focus on the friendships that matter. Make an effort to grow them and commit to them. One easy step towards that is if you think of something nice about someone, make a point of telling them. Because so often all the nice things we think of at the time are often left at the person’s funeral.
To your growth!
Eric S Burdon