It’s all about relationships

I somewhat randomly clicked on this TED Talk by Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger this week.

He has carried on the research in one of the longest running research projects of its kind, the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For more than 75 years data has been collected that has led to some clear answers about what makes for a good life.

Younger people tend to predict that fortune and fame will lead to happiness. That prediction doesn’t hold up.

Studying older people who have lived more life shows there is one key indicator for happier and healthier lives.

It’s actually simple and ultimately rather obvious. According to Waldinger and the study’s research, this is your ticket to a good life:

“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

It’s all about relationships.

Not only will you have a happier life if it’s built around positive relationships, you’ll live a healthier and longer life as well:

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”

Even brain health and mental function were notably better later in life for those who reported stronger connections in their relationships.

Waldinger closed his talk with this:

“The people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships—with family, with friends, with community.”

“The good life is built with good relationships.”

I think most people will say they want a life filled with good relationships, but how often are we intentional about investing in our connections with family and friends and community?

What if you “leaned in” to the relationships that matter most? Imagine making family and friends your true priority in the way you spend your time and where you devote your greatest energy and creativity.

If you want a satisfying life, career success and financial well-being should be subordinate to the strength of the connections you make with the people who matter most.

If you don’t have close friends, make some. If your family life is suffering, get busy making it better. If you don’t have a community that you support and that supports you, do something about it.

Life as a human here on Earth is ultimately all about relationships.

“There isn’t time—so brief is life—for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving—and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” –Mark Twain



Happiness, the pursuit

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After celebrating Independence Day here in the U.S.A. last week, we should remember the goal for those revolutionaries ultimately was a nation that would especially protect the rights to “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness“.

A government cannot grant you happiness. But it’s nice of ours to at least promise to get out of the way and not impede our pursuit of it.

How’s the pursuit going for you? Me? I think I probably have moments of happiness at a slightly above average rate. Happiness, though, is an elusive state. If you notice yourself feeling happy and try to dissect why, you lose the feeling. You can look back on truly happy moments after the fact, but it’s hard to catch happiness in the act. What if the act of pursuing actually prevents you from reaching the desired state?

Can you list distinct, indisputable happy moments in your life? This is a good exercise for your journal. What are the peak happy times from throughout your life, the big falling-in-love and birth-of-your-children moments, and the small, quiet sitting-on-a-covered-porch-during-a-gentle-rain moments?

It’s worthwhile to excavate those memories and try to understand why those moments stand out. You might discover some common elements to help set yourself up for even more happiness, to create the conditions most likely to spark more happy memories. Why not be happy on purpose?

This enlightening TED Talk from Matt Killingsworth highlights his research showing that people are happiest when they are lost in a moment, when their minds do NOT wander.

This seems true for many of my happiest moments. The chatty part of my brain, the happiness-killing part prone to near constant monologuing, disappears when I’m in a zone, whether that’s work or play or reading or watching a movie or riding a roller coaster. Happiness is absorption.

Jason Silva, in a recent interview on the Tim Ferriss Podcast, said that his aim is to build his life around flow states. Excellent idea.

How can I set myself up for more flow states, more moments getting lost in something that quiets that inner monologue, that stops my mind from wandering away from the present moment? What are the conditions that tend to lead to this kind of absorption?

Can I craft my day around creating flow states for work and for play? Set up my work area, tune out distractions, and just begin, whether I feel like it or not. Maybe by creating the climate for happy moments and engaging in activities that require complete absorption, happiness will pursue me rather than the other way around.

More happiness, less pursuit.