Happiness is something quantified in a variety of ways.

Happy Days (the phrase AND the show), happy trails, happy valley, happy birthday, happy clappy. Perhaps happy as Larry or Gilmore. 

What defines happiness? Is it just a state of mind, or is it a definition of your state of play in life? Many people tend to think that when we have just the right amount of material things, the right amount of money in the bank, the right-sized home, and the right partner, then suddenly happiness is automatic.

But are we fulfilled? Are we truly happy?

Most people think winning the lottery would make their lives happier. Perfect. Totally free from a financial burden which is so often a driving factor in our quest for happiness. 

But a reality check on why people thrive and genuinely feel ‘happy’ and content with their lives comes from the findings of a nearly hundred-year-old study from Harvard that began in the 1930s. 

A book about this study titled ‘The Good Life’ uses science to demystify what it really takes to have satisfaction in life. What might surprise you is that it isn’t the perfect ‘this and that’.

So what really matters when it comes to happiness in life?

The study of happiness

Initially, the study had over 700 male Harvard students mixed with low-income non-Harvard attendees in the Boston area. As partners and children got added into the mix and reviews were made every two years as well as health screening every five years, pictures began to emerge.

Is this a perfect sample for a study today? Perhaps not. You would need to ensure there were enough diversity and socioeconomic strata etc. to represent the average human experience. Ideally, you would want people from various nations and a larger pool of subjects. But given that this started in 1938, it’s not an irrelevant study by any means!

What we usually hear is that happiness can be achieved by ticking certain boxes in life. You got the dream job, dream car, dream house, and trophy partner, and everything may outwardly appear perfect. Shouldn’t you then, by default, automatically be happy?

The study overwhelmingly says ‘no’.

Having what you perceive to be a perfect life, according to the majority of people’s standards, does not equate with automatic happiness to follow.

So if it isn’t a financial or material thing, professional achievement, or perfect dress size, that means happiness is within reach for all of us. If it isn’t some brass ring we have to grab, we can all find personal happiness.

What does happiness look like?

What the researchers ultimately found is that it’s all about relationships. The strength of our bonds with others. And this is completely aside from whether we are single, married, or common-law. 

Most people think that happiness is a state you achieve by aspiration, but contentment is reachable regardless of your status as an individual companion-wise, financially, and even health-wise.

Is it ever too late to get into a happy state? Absolutely not. The only thing preventing any of us from building stronger bonds with others is our own attitude and desire to connect meaningfully.

Fun fact? The book says that people in their 50s with strong relationship bonds were usually healthiest in their 80s. Nobody has to be prom queen or popular in their youth to achieve adult fulfillment. So it’s never too late.

Who you gonna call?

If you had a disaster or were upset and distraught, how many people could you contact in the middle of the night? Who can you be vulnerable with and cry in front of without feeling awkward or ashamed? 

It doesn’t matter whether it’s a friend, colleague, family member, or otherwise. But everyone needs that person or group of people in their life. 

It’s important to foster those relationships for a healthier and happier life.

Day-to-day connections

The French have it right according to the study. I would argue the Spanish absolutely do too! Taking your full break while at work and enjoying some discourse with a colleague or friend is a great approach to making bonds. 

Many of us choose to run errands, but time is better spent building relationships and socialising strengthening those bonds which ultimately make us happier and healthier. Just don’t spend your entire break sharing lunch and talking about work!

While we’re at it, people who identify as happier didn’t take their work home with them. They finished on time, didn’t stay late, and were off-duty on weekends.

Social media…

There are pros and cons to social media. No doubt about it. But if you just use it to lurk and lack engagement it can more often than not be a negative. Comparison, envy, and isolation can all become more apparent if you’re just a background observer. 

Either engage or spend less time on it. Social media can be useful if you have niche interests and potentially you can connect with and generate new relationships with others which was never straightforward just a few decades ago.

Get back to face to face

It’s so easy to text message and DM people these days isn’t it? 

Healthy relationships that aren’t long-distance should involve quality time in person. Zoom can only go so far, and sure it’s absolutely better than reading a balloon caption on the phone if geography makes regular visits prohibitive. But if you can? Make efforts to see each other in person or at least talk on the phone.

In conclusion

Nurturing our relationships with loved ones, family, and friends is the foremost indicator of our overall happiness and satisfaction.

Make the time, take the effort required, and build stronger bonds in both your personal life and the workplace and fulfillment will come naturally. 

The bottom line? It’s really not all about what’s in the bank account or what size you are. We can choose to bring happiness into our lives at whatever stage we are at in life if we choose to work at it.