The longest study on happiness: slow and steady wins the race

Slow but sure route to happiness

Robert Waldinger, the 4th director of the longest study on happiness ended his TED talk “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness” with the quote;

“The good life is built with good relationships.”

A 75 year study neatly summarised into a few words, it comes as no surprise that cash and fame – what people generally think will make them happy – just won’t cut it.

The Harvard study followed hundreds of men, some from Harvard University and others from the opposite run of the social ladder, visiting their houses, asking them questions every couple years, analysing their health, and meeting their families.

These were men who fought in WWII, married, had children, scaled the ladder, fell off it, and ultimately, died, during the study. In fact, only 70 candidates remain.

The results from this study have confirmed what I believe many of us suspected: happiness, in actual fact, comes from high quality relationships. Those who made an effort to connect with friends, family and colleagues reported the most satisfaction in life, the lowest levels of pain, and measured the highest brain activity consequentially leading to the lowest memory loss. Sounds pretty good to me.

So how does this affect you at work? The new mentality emerging in the workplace states that happiness isn’t to be reserved for one’s home (or in our remote-working case), ‘personal’ lives. Surely the  benefits of happiness can only be attained by encompassing happiness as a whole, which means including your work culture.

Over and over, Waldinger repeated the importance of relationships, of making an effort to connect. And why not with our colleagues as well? They are, after all, humans with lives beyond their desk chair. It reminds me of being a small kid and thinking your parents are just that: your parents. Living, breathing, eating parenting life with nothing beyond. Then we realise that they too are every day people with stories, memories, quirks, flaws, and active lives beyond you; lives that make them more real and open the potential for a more rewarding relationship.

In our virtual workspace,  we have a water cooler flow where are welcome to share whatever sparks our interest, as well as our weekly Skype chat for catching up about life and a photo sharing Friday. It helps us to grow closer, be sensitive to particular needs, and lesson the distance that is our reality.

And if there’s an employee disagreement? That’s nothing to worry about. The study found that bickering did not negatively affect the quality of a relationship and I’d go so far as to say the open communication may actually strengthen it. On the contrary, knowing that we can count on the other person, however, had a huge positive impact.

In the end, we all want health and happiness. We may all take different approaches to it but this sounds like the slow and steady, surefire route to get there. Cash and fame bring attention but what does that boil down to? Maybe our desire for relationships, and these two routes lead only to the briefest and let’s face it, probably lowest quality relationships. Instead, by investing in your family, your friends, and your colleagues, you’ll be investing in your life.

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