Every person wants to be happy. But what really makes us happy?
Scientific research has been conducted to lift the veil of happiness and revealed some simple truths that we should adhere to if we want to live a happy & fulfilled life.
After 75 years of research, spending 20 million dollars and 268 men participating made it possible for us to say that we know scientifically the secrets to happiness. The study known as The Harvard Grant Study followed undergraduates from the Harvard University classes of 1938-1940 for 75 years (and still continues), collecting data on various aspects of their lives at regular intervals.
The below is the summary of the research based on the work by George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004 and wrote a book about it called Triumphs of Experience. The findings are universal and intriguing.
Enriched Relationships is all that matters
Sounds like common sense but now we scientifically have the proof. Relationships that are warm, supportive and caring are better predictors of fulfilled life than anything else we might have, achieve, learn or do.
It’s more than Money and Power
Even in terms of financial impact on life, it was not the IQ that made a difference but the warm relationship with mothers and siblings.
‘There was no significant difference between the maximum earned incomes of the men with IQs of 110--115 and the incomes of the men with IQs of 150-plus. On the other hand, men with warm mothers took home $87,000 more than those men whose mothers were uncaring. The men who had good sibling relationships when young were making an average of $51,000 more a year than the men who had poor relationships with their siblings. The 58 men with the best scores for warm relationships made an average of $243,000 a year; in contrast, the 31 men with the worst scores for relationships earned an average maximum salary of $102,000 a year.’
Nurture over Nature
The study revealed that loving nurturing environment is much more important than genetics of the child. Moreover, even childhood poor environment and conditions are possible to ‘revert’ if a person decides so later in life.
If we learn how to love properly, we can find happiness.
One of the examples is Godfrey Camille who was a disaster as a young man. He had bleak prospects for success according to predictions of the study. Unloved as a child he adopted immature coping behavior under stress resulting in psychosis and neurosis. After graduating Harvard Medical School he attempted suicide.
By the time he was an old one he had become a star. His occupational success; measurable enjoyment of work, love, and play; his health; the depth and breadth of his social supports; the quality of his marriage and relationship to his children--all that and more combined to make him one of the most successful of the surviving men of the study.
So how did he manage to overcome some strong predispositions?
He searched for love all his life. At the age of 35 he had a life-changing experience. He was hospitalized for 14 months with tuberculosis and he spent this time contemplating about his life and deciding to change the course of it. When he got better, he took responsibility of his own life, married, succeeded in his career and created loving relationships with his beloved and helped a lot of people through what he did.
Your Focus Should be on Love
Relationships that are based on love are a key to unlocking happiness.
As Vaillant puts it, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he writes. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.” In other words, that is learning how to be emotionally resilient, emotionally stable and emotionally intelligent.
‘‘Only those who understand that happiness is only the cart; love is the horse. And perhaps those who recognize that our so-called defense mechanisms, our involuntary ways of coping with life, are very important indeed. Before age 30, Camille depended on narcissistic hypochondriasis to cope with his life and his feelings; after 50 he used empathic altruism and a pragmatic stoicism about taking what comes. The two pillars of happiness revealed by the 75-year-old Grant Study--and exemplified by Dr. Godfrey Minot Camille--are love and a mature coping style that does not push love away.’’
Challenges Can Make You Happier
What doesn’t kill us, makes us stronger. And this has a scientific proof to it as well now.
The journey from immaturity to maturity, says Vaillant, is a sort of movement from narcissism to connection, and a big part of this shift has to do with the way we deal with challenges.
Challenges makes us grow. If everything was provided for us, there wouldn’t be much to do and hence our flexibility and plasticity of mind would not be improved. So we wouldn’t really be happier.
In order to be happier we want to hone our coping mechanisms and increase our capacity of ‘making gold out of shit’, as Vaillant puts it. The secret is moving away from the self-centered approach to life, replacing narcissism to bringing love and compassion into the space. Think of it as Mother Teresa’s childhood. She struggled to have a good childhood and her path was challenging and painful but her life was successful as she managed to care about other people and create amazing opportunities, connections and relationships with so many people.
People who face challenges become more creative to find new solutions. That’s another benefit of struggles. That’s why modern child psychologists recommend in order to bring an independent child we need to allow them to fail, to experience life as it is, with all it’s bits and struggles.
But even if we didn’t do well as parents, to create loving and balanced relationships, that’s ok as well. Plasticity of the mind and environment that our children live in, will have a bigger impact on their success and happiness than other factors, based on the Grant Harvard Study.
The only thing we can always improve, is to have a good relationship with them. Establish more respect. Value them. See beauty in them. Listen to them and love them no-matter-what.
DARYA HAITOGLOU MSc(Dist), MPhil, MTNLP, PCC (ICF)
A psychologist and a relationship coach, Darya began her career managing international consumer brands for Procter & Gamble in the UK, moved on to become a human resources manager and eventually became the HR Talent leader for the P&G Geneva hub. She quit her lucrative corporate job in Switzerland to move back to the UK and focus on helping transform people's life and work. With more than ten years of coaching and talent management experience, Darya also has been on BBC morning and evening radio shows.
She holds a First Class Honours in Economics, Bachelor’s in Psychology, Masters’ with Distinction in International Relations and holds a Masters’ of Philosophy from the University of Cambridge. Darya is a certified trainers’ trainer in NLP, professional certified coach (PCC) from the International Coaching Federation (ICF) and strategic interventions for personal and business growth. Working across different countries and speaking four languages, as well as being a mother of two, she is valued for her skills in helping leaders build successful and meaningful businesses through focusing on their personal growth.