health

The 3 factors to being happy, according to a Harvard psychologist.

Image via iStock.

The secret to happiness. So simple, eh?

We’re often told things like money, fame and power will never make us truly happy, but our relationships with others will. This is true, of course, but what kind of relationships are we talking about, and with whom? For instance, if you fight with your partner all the time, can that relationship truly make you happy?

One study may have just found the answer, outlining the three keys factors in relationships that contribute to our individual happiness.

The research followed 724 men over 75 years, monitoring their quality of relationships, job satisfaction, and social activities as well as their physical health. Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, from Harvard Study of Adult Development, described the findings in a recent TED talk.

“Many of our men, when they were starting out as young adults, really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community,” Waldinger says.

There are three key ways in which this works. Check them out below.

Watch: One way to reflect on your happiness levels? Meditation. Find out more this Paper Tiger video. (Post continues after video.)

1. Social connection.

The study findings suggest the less social a person is, the more likely they are to not only be unhappy, but to have poor health.

According to Waldinger, if too much alone time leads to a feeling of loneliness it can result in a decline in health, an earlier decline in brain function, as well as a shortened life expectancy than people who are more social. Yikes.

“It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well-connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic,” Waldinger says.

I’ve been wanting to join a book club for about five years now, but have never made a movement. After reading this, I’m signing up. Now.

Connections can make a huge difference to your health. (Image: iStock)
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2. It's the quality of relationships that matter.

Before you go out and join every social club in your area, Waldinger says it's about quality over quantity.

It's not just the number of friends you have, or whether you have a partner, but the quality of these close relationships that contribute to your happiness. According to the research, the level of satisfaction people had in their relationships was directly correlated to how healthy they were in old age.

"It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection turn out to be very bad for our health. Perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective," Waldinger explains.

"And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily-partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships,on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain," (Post continues after gallery.)

3. Having a partner you can rely on.

The third biggest lesson the research found? Happiness is related to having healthy relationships. It might seem like a no-brainer but the science behind it is quite interesting.

"It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective; that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people's memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can't count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline," Waldinger explains

But he adds that "good" relationships don't have to be smooth sailing all the time; the main thing is that a couple feels they can rely on each other if faced with difficult circumstances.

What contributes to your happiness?

Tags: relationships , friendship , mamamia-tv , marriage
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