How a simple “hello” could end the perpetual pursuit of happiness.
BY KATE LANE-SMITH
The search for happiness is a well-trod path. Money, fame, that Instagram lifestyle—all are attempts to capture that illusive feeling.
But as it turns out, happiness is not a “me” centered pursuit at all—and now there’s science to prove it.
According to an almost 80-year-old study by Harvard researchers, the old adage “happiness is found in helping others” isn’t that far off. We now know that the key to happiness is relationships—close, healthy relationships, that is.
When scientists first began tracking the lives of 268 students in 1938, they hoped to discover how people could live healthy, happy lives. They didn’t expect to discover that relationships with friends, family and partners had a significant influence on both. The effect of these relationships outweighed social standing, wealth (or lack of it), and academic pedigree. Then, as the study grew to include inner-city participants and descendants, researchers found an unexpected benefit: relationships not only contribute to a happier life, you also live longer as a result.
And while this may be encouraging news, the opposite is also true. Those who are lonely experience none of those benefits. In fact, recent studies suggest that loneliness is becoming a more significant issue with young generations. (And we’re not just talking about being around people; loneliness happens in a crowd of people, as easily as in an empty room.) But, it doesn’t have to end here.
With International Day of Happiness on March 20th, we’re counting out five days of actions to bring a little more happiness into your life through deeper relationships with those around you—that’s long enough to take you into the weekend and useful enough to repeat the following week!
We get it, life is busy. But finding time to connect with friends is its own reward. Break out of the digital sphere and meet in person. Go for coffee at that place you’ve been waiting to try all year. Explore a local park (picnic anyone?), or, plan a “try something new day” where you take on activity together that you’ve never done before.
Would it surprise you to learn that in a world of instant connection, we’re becoming even more lonely? The prognosis is concerning; studies suggest loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking . Don’t want those around you to fall victim to this? Look to the power of human connection! Reach out to someone in your life who you think might be feeling isolated—maybe it’s a friend who’s being bullied or someone who’s recently move to the city. Alternatively, is there’s someone in your life who’s dealing with an illness or health issue? Contact them; guaranteed they could use a friend right now.
Moving can be an exciting (and sometimes lonely) journey. We all have friends who have moved to different cities—even countries—for school or work; sending a care package (or something as small as a postcard) is a reminder that you’re thinking of them. Make sure to include a note and some special memories, like photos of that epic road trip you took together or a favourite snack (non-perishable of course!)
Start building community around you with small acts of kindness. For the people you see every day, but never really talk to, start with the little things. It could be as simple as holding the door for a co-worker or fellow student, asking the barista how their day is going or having lunch with someone you don’t know very well. A little more “we” goes a long way!
We all have those people in our life that have helped us become who we are, be they best friends, college roommates, teachers or family. Hold the texts and jump on the phone to call three of these people for a quick catch up. But, before hanging up, make sure to tell them how grateful you are to have them in your life. Remember: as awkward as it can feel to get mushy and sentimental, being on the receiving end of that kind of love is a day changer!