In the longest study of what led men to live happily and successfully to a ripe old age, guess what trait they were most likely to have in common? The lives of 268 men who entered Harvard College in 1937 were tracked for 72 years in The Harvard Study of Adult Development. Those who made it into middle and old age as "happy" and "healthy" shared seven traits: mental adaptability to changes in life, advanced education, stable marriage, not smoking, not abusing alcohol, getting some exercise, and maintaining a healthy weight.
Yet one factor was more important than any of these: Attention to relationships.
When the primary investigator on this study for over 40 years, psychiatrist George Vaillant, was asked, "What have you learned?" he quickly answered, "that the only thing that really matters in life is your relationships with other people." It was the social life of these men, he said, "not intellectual brilliance or parental social class" that led to their living successfully to a ripe old age.
The creator of Wharton's popular "Success Course," G. Richard Shell offers an approach to finding success that can lead to happiness, with others, in his new book, Springboard. Beyond cultivating close relationships, to feel happy, Shell cites the ineffable feeling one's doing the right thing, described in two ways:
1. Eudaimonia is what "Arististotle called the spirit of goodness or the good that we seek for its own sake and not for the purpose of achieving any other good," according to Shell.
2. Simcha is a Hebrew word with many interpretations, Shell notes, "from simple joy and satisfaction, to the feeling of spiritual exultation" or what Rabbi Akiva Tatz calls "The experience of the soul that comes when you are doing what you should be doing."
Double Up on Happiness And Meaning
What if we could behave in ways that enabled us to combine both the cultivation of close relationships and eudemonia /simcha experiences? Here are three possible ways -- and I'd love to hear your ideas.
1. Use Best Talents With Others On What Matters Most
Forge activity-based relationships with individuals who are radically different than you in background, temperament, beliefs, expertise or other ways, yet share a strong sweet spot of mutual interest. Working together on something mutually meaningful increases the chances that you'll accomplish something remarkable together that you could not do on your own. Eudemonia may happen more often.
Even better, as Shell notes, "When it comes to gaining wisdom, negative emotions have a place of honor right next to positive ones." "The price of enlightenment seems to be suffering, not smiling." Since those radically different than you inevitably won't act right, you get a priceless opportunity to see your biggest hot buttons as you react. You can practice turning moment of potential miscommunication or friction into opportunities to speak to each others' good intent -- and feel the satisfaction of "doing what you should be doing."
2. Experience The Freedom of Agreed Upon Constraints
Be a part of a regular tribe that is both bounded and unbounded. That means they have agreed-upon ground rules, from the structure of their meetings to the explicit, mutually beneficial ways they share and collaborate. Yet they are also able to experiment, learn faster from each other, propose changes in how they operate and evolve. Such groups are as diverse as Quantified Self, Rotary International, Y Combinator and mastermind groups. "In a world of constant flux where our skill sets have a shorter life" we can thrive as we hone our capacity for flexibility and play in situations that are both bounded and unbounded according to A New Culture of Learning co-authors, John Seely Brown and Douglas Thomas.
3. Start Your Success Path by Recognizing Your Personality Strengths
Shell incorporated into one test for his class elements from many tests including Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, VIA Survey of Character Strengths, and StrengthsFinder. He came up with four dimensions of your personality, "that most directly relate to success":
• Your attitude about other people: Social Styles
• Your drive to achieve: Action Orientation
• Your inclination towards intellectual or creative activities: Mind-sets
• Your emotional response system: Emotional Temperaments
In taking the test, which you'll find in his book, you can view sixteen personality traits so you can characterize yourself along these four dimensions. Plus each step on the journey toward defining the success that will give you happiness, Shell provides apt self-assessments and other exercises. It's clear this course has been a long-time, passionate interest of his that has given him the sense of meaningfulness he hopes others will feel in following this path.
"In the long run, we will succeed because the people who truly matter in our lives will appreciate us for who we really are, not who we are trying to be," Shell told, historian and writer, Steven Ujifusa.