The Secret to Happiness

Many millennials believe that being rich and famous will make them happy. However, the results of a 75-year longitudinal study of people's health and life satisfaction shows that the road to happiness is paved with good relationships.

Despite all of our differences, pretty much every person on the planet has one goal in common- to be happy. However, we probably all have very different ways that we believe we will achieve that goal. Some may think happiness is having a good job, being rich, living in a paradise, the ability to travel, having a lot of cats… sorry maybe that’s just me! In fact, according to psychiatrist and researcher Robert Waldinger in his Ted Talk What makes a good life, 80 percent of millennials surveyed said that a major life goal for them was to get rich, and 50 percent said a major goal was to become famous. Sounds great, but not only are those goals not practical, they do not necessarily bring you happiness. Celebrities have just as many or more problems than the rest of us, and a 2010 Princeton study shows that money only makes you happy up to a certain point (about $75,000/year) and any income above that makes no significant difference in emotional wellbeing.

So you are probably wondering, what does lead to happiness? I recommend watching the Robert Waldinger Ted Talk, but I will summarize it here. His talk is about the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development- a 75-year qualitative and quantitative study of 724 men: some from Harvard, and others disadvantaged boys from inner city Boston. Waldinger formed three compelling conclusions from this plethora of data: social connection is good for your physical and mental health, the quality of your close relationships is paramount, and good relationships protect your brain functioning from aging. Healthiness leads to happiness and vice versa, and results in a longer life.

These conclusions tell us that our goals in life should be centered upon forming strong relationships of all kinds- friends, family, and romantic. This is the secret to happiness. According to Waldinger, loneliness is a killer and conflictual relationships are detrimental to health. We should seek out social connections, resolve conflicts with family, and nurture our close relationships. Perhaps if we focused on these things, life would be more satisfying.

Of course that is easier said than done. Humans are wired for connection but we are also doomed to misunderstand each other due to the confines of language and confusions of different cultures and upbringings. Therapy can certainly help this process, and marriage and family therapists such as myself are specifically trained to help people with relationships. I am biased because of my degree, but I truly believe in the work we do for couples, families and individuals. My masters program was a transformational process for me as a person and a therapist, and I hope to help others change their lives by passing along my knowledge and using my clinical skills to improve relationships. As Waldinger said, “The good life is built with good relationships”.