The One Thing That Will Really Make You Happy

May 09, 2016

What really makes us happy and healthy? According to the longest study of human development that’s ever been done, it’s not money, not fame, and not a high-powered career. According to Robert Waldinger, the (fourth!) director of the 75-year-old Harvard Study of Adult Development, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period.” (Click here to see Waldinger’s TED talk on the subject.) 

That’s good news—because building close connections is something we can all do, no matter where we live, no matter how much money we have, or what kind of work we do. Waldinger noted that people didn’t have to be in a committed relationship, or have a huge number of friends to see the benefits. What mattered was the quality of the relationships. With that in mind, here are three simple ways we can improve our oh-so-important-for-happiness relationships:

Touch base more often. If you’re like me, you often take your friends and family for granted, missing out on opportunities to build closeness. One of my goals in 2016 has been to keep in better touch with those I love, using whatever method they find easy to use. Many of my loved ones live far away from me, so I’ve been texting, calling, sending messages on Facebook, even—gasp!—writing snail mail letters more often.   If they do live near me, I’m making more of an effort to spend time together. I feel more connected to my family and friends, and that makes me happier.

Show appreciation. Research shows that feeling appreciated is one major contributor to lasting loving relationships. Think about all the ways your loved one contributes to your life—does your spouse earn a good living? Is your mom a great listener? Does your son or daughter make you laugh?  What about that friend who never forgets your birthday? Let him or her know you’ve noticed and say thank you. We just hosted a big weekend family gathering and not only did everyone thank us, they brought us a card and gift! It feels good to be appreciated—and we’re also much more likely to want to host future family events because we know our family appreciates it when we do.

Love the one you’re with. Have you noticed that your partner (or child, parent, or friend) isn’t perfect, or doesn’t always behave just as you’d like them to? Yup, so have I. Instead of wasting time fretting about this, really see them, appreciate them for who they are, and don’t try to change them. Love them anyway. The following quote has helped me enormously (unfortunately, I can’t remember who said it): “Love them with your heart, not your ego.”

I feel lucky to have many close and loving relationships with family and friends, and knowing how important those connections are to my happiness and health only makes me want to work harder on staying close. It’s a simple pleasure within reach of us all.

How do you stay connected with the people you love?

Everyday adventures

Happiness is a Bigger Bed

May 23, 2014

The discussion starts like this:

“Could you move your elbow?”

“No, there’s no place for me to put it.”

“You’re on my side.”

“No, I’m not. I’m right on the edge of the bed. Look—you’re taking up more than your half!”

“No, I’m not—I’m hanging off my side…”

And on it goes as my husband and I bicker about space while we read in bed before we go to sleep. He’s bigger than I am, but does that mean I should give up my comfort so he can have more room? And in turn, why do I insist on a strict 50-50 division, even though we are not equal in size?

Don't forget room for me...
It occurs to me this little argument is a sort of parallel for marriage, or any close relationship for that matter: Each person struggling for territory of his or her own while trying to stay together in a finite space.

Is there a solution? Yes, and it’s simple:

Buy a bigger bed.

Or, create a relationship that gives both parties more room. Look for the win-win.

Too often we get caught up in our own points of view, in believing we’re right and our partner is wrong, when really, we’re both right. Working this out takes awareness and flexibility. We need to be aware of our true needs, our partner’s needs and what the situation calls for. One person shouldn’t have to make all the sacrifices, and both should feel free to make their needs known. We shouldn’t always cling to our “rights” OR always be the one who bends and accommodates. We lose flexibility when we establish arbitrary rules. This means we must also feel that we’re worthy of our space, needs and wants and that they matter as much as our partner’s. As much as, not more than.

Of course, balance in relationships is a constantly moving target. That’s one of the great things about a relationship—being aware of the other person’s needs and supporting him, and having your own needs supported in turn. Learning how to perform this balancing act is a challenge, but one worth mastering if we want to live happily with another. After 26 years of marriage, I’m still working on it.

How do you create win-win situations in your life?