Most of us spend most of our time trying to cultivate a life that is happy. Often it feels elusive to us; what is happiness and how do we find it, nurture it and maintain it? What happiness means to one can be in stark contrast to what happiness means to another, however, most of us almost intuitively know that happiness is a feeling that comes over and fills our entire body. Sometimes we can recognize it instantly, like the joy we feel when we receive a surprise out of the blue, or the smile that frames our face when a loved one finds good news. But we are always searching to find a way to bottle those feelings to shroud us each day or to lock into a strategy that guarantees that the feeling of happiness never leaves us.
One thing for certain is that it truly is impossible to manufacture a life free from difficulty and hardship. Life invariably has ups and downs, ebbs and flows. Without the dark times we could never recognize or appreciate the moments of joy, or happiness, that evolve. Without one, we cannot experience the other. But the difficulties and hardships should not dissuade us from continually striving for happiness and calm during the storms. I believe that if we foster a sense of gratitude, appreciation and hope in everything we do, we can find the happiness we crave and desire.
Earlier this year, Harvard University revealed the findings on the longest study of happiness ever undertaken. With data collected over 80 years and from almost 800 participants, the study looked at many factors that can contribute to ultimate happiness. And while career aspirations, wealth and achievements provide us with a sense of accomplishment and can add to our happiness quotient, the real determinate of a happy, long and fulfilling life is our social connections. And it is the positive social connections that are the best. The key to keep in mind here is that it’s not the quantity of connections but the quality.
This finding makes perfect sense. I know the rush and positive vibes I get when visiting with a good friend and reminiscing, or the satisfaction I feel when someone has really engaged, listened and heard what I have to say. The laughter, tenderness and fulfillment we feel when in the company of people who love and care for us is unparalleled in its ability to lift our mood, create warmth in our heart and boost our outlook on the day. But the study also counselled that these positive and supportive connections require work to maintain and we shouldn’t stand idly by and not tend to them. It’s the actual process of actively engaging and putting forth the effort that contributes to our overall happiness. The more attention we put towards our shared connections, the happier we are. Sometimes this is easier said than done and often the pressures of the world and the stress of maintaining and balancing a functional life causes meaningful and fulfilling connections to take a back seat. We must push ourselves to make time to reconnect with important people in our lives, even when we are drained and don’t really feel like putting in the effort. Yes, as we all know, those that matter will always be there for us regardless, but cultivating a continued practice of touching base and checking in will help to keep those relationships fertile and most certainly help keep us happier overall.
So keep striving for a life full of exciting accomplishments, milestones and variety. But remember to take those social connections along for the ride. In the end, you just may find that happiness has become your everyday state of mind.