What makes us happy? A question that has always been a challenge for mankind, and now, after many years, thanks to a long study, it seems that the answer has been found.
It was 1938 when a group of Harvard scientists began a study to answer the question of what makes people happy. Initially, 724 people fell under the microscope of researchers – these were boys from disadvantaged Boston families and students of an educational institution. Then their spouses were added, then children, then grandchildren. Ultimately, the Harvard researchers included 1,300 offspring from the original group in the study.
At regular intervals, they collected information about the participants, from their financial situation and career progression to their health. These were people who married and divorced, experienced success and failure, became parents or orphans, amassed wealth or lived in financial hardship.
Science has revealed what makes a person happy
AT longest study in history the only conclusion was that the “key” to human happiness is good interpersonal relationships. But how are they cultivated and what do they consist of? The current directors of the Harvard study attempt to answer this question on the assumption that, as Robert Waldinger and Mark Schultz note in The Atlantic, and as reported by APE-MPE, our personal relationships are not always the top priority.
For example, in the US in 2018, the average American spent a total of 11 hours a day alone. Over the course of 29 years, 58 days spent with a friend may be a tiny fraction of the 4,851 days spent watching TV or surfing the Internet.
The experts point out that the help of science or analysis of some of the results is not necessary to understand how relationships affect our psyche, attitude. From this point of view healthy and fulfilling relationships imply a kind of well-being or social fitness. And just as it happens with the physical well-being of the body, so it is with the social exercises are needed to keep it at a good level.
But what kind of exercise could it be? The experts gave questionnaires to the study participants and asked them to fill them out. The 1,300 people then had to “think about themselves and the people they love” and answer questions. After the sheets were handed over, it turned out that such an exercise had a beneficial effect on some of the subjects. On others, no. This is a practice that can help anyone. But this does not mean that it is simple and easy. The researchers acknowledge that some participants show caution (doubt) by leaving entire pages of the questionnaire blank. And someone even wrote in the margins: “What are these questions?!”.
Loneliness is a big problem for human existence
Thinking about the course and difficulties of life is not easy. However, the importance of social fitness is enormous, given that loneliness, a condition with negative health consequences, tends to reach epidemic proportions.
In a recent online survey of 55,000 people worldwide, one in three people of all ages reported feeling lonely. Among them, the 16-24 age group experienced this feeling most strongly, with 40% of them reporting that they felt lonely “often” and “very often”.
The 2020 survey also found that 32% of adults in Japan expected to experience loneliness during the year, while in the 2019 survey in the US, three out of four said experienced mild to severe loneliness.
Since similar finds were found in the UK, the government of the country decided to create ministry of loneliness. However, for specialists, the fight against the epidemic is not an easy task, because loneliness is a subjective experience: people feel lonely even if they have family or friends, while others may have minimal contact but no negative emotions. It means that the objective circumstances of a person’s life are not enough to explain why he feels lonely. Ultimately, it seems that emotions are determined by the difference between the social contacts that a person maintains and those that he really wants to have.
As Waldinger and Schultz point out in their new book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest-running Scientific Study of Happiness, this condition highlights the importance of the quality of interpersonal relationships. Neglecting them, they point out, is dangerous for us. Not only necessary, but also possible to invest in social well-being every day, every week of your life. Putting your own interpersonal relationships first, of course.