In part one of our two-part series on happiness, we’ve covered how the health of our relationships is strongly tied to our life expectancy, physical, mental, and emotional health, and our overall happiness levels. Today, we’ll uncover why the search for happiness isn’t enough and what’s even more important than searching for happiness.
While happiness and longer life can be definitively linked to the health and longevity of our relationships, what ultimately determines the strength of these relationships? In a second piece by Emily Esfahani Smith and published in Business Insider, “science says lasting relationships come down to—you guessed it—kindness and generosity.”
Take, for example, the people to whom you feel closest. Do they approach your relationship with a greedy, self-centered interest? Or, do they prioritize–at least predominantly–the relationship above their own personal wants and needs?
Developing strong relationships rests upon your ability to be relationship-centered. Being a good spouse means putting the relationship, not one’s self, first. Arguments aren’t about any one person winning, but working through conflict in order to allow the relationship to flourish. Similarly, as a parent, we exchange our happiness for deeper meaning. Time Magazine states that “all types of parents reported having more meaning in life than did their childless counterparts, suggesting that the rewards of parenting may be more ineffable than the daily highs (or lows).”
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Similarly, outside of familial relationships, you must put aside your own selfish desires. For example, while you might not feel like attending a birthday party after a long and tiring work week, you would (at least, we hope!) force yourself to show up with a smile and a gift for the good of the relationship. We may not always love attending children’s parties, bridal showers, or cancelling dinner plans to help a friend in need….but those instances of celebrating or supporting those who mean the most to you are the backbone of a strong, generous relationship.
Simply put: If we focus on our happiness alone, we wouldn’t be good friends. We may be able to develop shallow relationships in the short term but not the health/happiness/life-sustaining relationships that make a life worth living.
What has the study’s director learned from the Harvard study? Waldinger, who is also a Zen priest, said that he now practices meditation daily and invests more time and energy in his relationships. When it comes to man’s search for happiness, our best way to live a happy life is to live a meaningful one.