Recently there has been a proliferation of research regarding the nature of “Happiness”…that elusive state of mind that we all crave. Much of this research comes from the relatively new field of “Positive” psychology. The research methodology often involves compiling “self report” surveys from all over the world. The main question asked of people recruited for the survey is very simple. It is usually some variation of “How happy are you, and to what do you attribute your level of happiness? Research subjects are given general categories from which to choose including health, wealth, spiritual practice, relationships with family and friends…etc. The findings after upwards of 15 years of this kind of research are shocking…but not altogether surprising.
General Findings Of Happiness Research
As compared with middle age adults in other highly industrialized countries, Americans rate extremely low on the “happiness” scale. Our rates of anxiety and depression are sky high. At the same time we have disturbingly high rates of “mood” disorder and general discontent, we also spend the most money trying to solve our “happiness problem”. Common attempts to “feel better” include buying the latest technological toy, taking exotic and exciting vacations, working on improving our bodies, engaging in numerous “self help” activities, and taking psychiatric medications. Overall these attempts appear not to be working. At the very least, the results don’t seem to last.
So…What’s Wrong With This Picture?
To put it simply…in popular American culture, many of us seem to be seeking happiness in all the wrong places. We would do well to look at the activities and values of people in other parts of the world who report higher levels of happiness…as well as looking at populations in the United States who report higher long-term levels of happiness. When researchers did exactly this, here is what they found:
The Top Three Characteristics Of People Who Report High Levels Of Happiness
- The happiest amongst us consistently report that they enjoy meaningful, intimate, relationships with family and/or friends
- A higher degree of contentment is correlated with those who have found a sense of purpose in their lives. This can be achieved either through work that is more of a “calling”, or really anything that one can feel passionate about
- A belief in something that is greater than the “self” also brings about a sense of peace and acceptance. Anxieties are “soothed” by this idea, and it does not necessarily mean the belief in any particular religious ideology…although it could.
- People who know how to re-write their life story are happier and probably have a longer, healthier life!
Importance of Relationship
The good news is that improving your relationships is something anybody can do at any time. It doesn’t take huge amounts of money unless you are amongst those who really need to work on how to connect with others. Here are some steps you might consider:
- Assess your current relationship environment. Does everyone you deal with on a daily basis add value to your life? If not consider gently letting go of those who do not. This could even mean changing jobs if you are forced to work in a hostile environment
- Consider reconnecting with people from your past. These people are like “gold” because they can help you reconnect with lost parts of yourself that can enrich your present sense of yourself
- Nurture your relationships every day. Don’t be afraid to be the first to call. If you find you are “working too hard” to keep something going though, this is another sign you may need to let a relationship go
- Don’t forget to be your own best friend. Spend time alone getting to know yourself in an atmosphere of quiet contemplation. Become curious and interested in the world through whatever “portal” makes sense to you (such as books, movies, nature) This will make you interesting to others and people will want to be around you.
Live Long And Thrive
I’m aware this is the Kaiser tag line, but I’m gonna borrow it because I like it. The longest living amongst us always report that they derive energy and the “will to live” through their relationships. As an added bonus, successful long-term romantic relationships often begin as deep committed friendships. Friendship is the fertile soil out of which intimacy sprouts and flourishes.