“Very little is needed to make a happy life; it is all within yourself, in your way of thinking. -Marcus Aurelius Antonius
The ever-elusive answer to “happiness” has baffled scholars, psychologists, and the every-day human for millennia. There are countless articles, written books, and podcasts on the subject — happiness, and how to find it. I have done quite a bit of research myself and have practiced several techniques to reach a state of happiness I’m content with. They never really work. To be clear, these techniques were not sustainable. They helped, sure, but meditating 7 days a week and keeping a gratitude journal just didn’t bring me true happiness.
In an era when levels of depression and suicide rates are skyrocketing, I imagine this hangs on the minds of many. For goodness sake, Suicide rates are the highest they have been since WWII.
FIGURE. Percent change in annual suicide rate,* by state — United States, from 1999–2001 to 2014–2016
Why have rates skyrocketed
The dark side of convenience? We live in a convenient world. Faster food, the internet at the touch of a button, Alexa turn the light on. We are privileged, and it has created the mindset of, “I deserve everything, and I want it now.” Maybe if I become rich and famous I will be happy? That is the easy answer, right? But, it doesn’t always work that way. You have to work HARD for happiness. Many of us just aren’t used to that, and it shows.
Consumerism. The idea of keeping up with the Joneses on a global scale — reality TV reminds you daily there is something bigger and better out there, and you do not have it. But, you want it. Social media does the same thing. All the reminders that leave you feeling less than. It is a tough, cruel world out there.
It isn’t that easy.
There are so many other reasons why. I don’t have the best answer for why, but surely these contribute to the rise in the mental health issues we face. I speak to this very briefly later.
What I do know is that nothing great, legendary, or worthwhile ever came easy.
So, I set out on this journey, and this is what I found.
What is needed to make a happy life?
Fortunately, there are a couple of things Harvard researchers have determined lead to a longer, happier life.
One thing I should note. Happiness is a state a mind, a feeling, a general sense of overall well being. Happiness is subjective, which makes it difficult to measure. However, self-reporting can still be helpful because your feeling can correlate with biological signs like lower blood pressure, brain activity, and chemical levels like cortisol or serotonin. So, don’t dismiss this research so quickly. Also, 75 years of research is quite convincing, and Harvard is, well, Harvard.
In 1938, Harvard began a study that, unbeknownst to them at the time, would be the longest study on happiness in the world. The study followed 724 teenage men from varying socioeconomic and demographic backgrounds. Over the course of the years, the researchers studied the subjects’ health, failures, achievements, and other factors.
This is what Harvard researchers found in relation to happiness:
1- “Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed.” So, they really weren’t kidding. Happy wife = happy life. That’s a win in my book. However, it also means my loner self needs to open up and accept new friendships and cultivate old ones. But, in all seriousness, building bonds is an important part of the human condition. It is necessary. Creating community, joining groups, or going to marriage counseling CAN help you be happy.
2-Know when to let go. Get fired? Completely embarrass yourself in front of 100 people? Run out of gas? Fall on the treadmill and roll off like a rollie pollie in front of the whole gym? And, you continue to dwell on every one of your blunders? Well, get over it. Being able to let go of the little imperfections of life and hiccups along the way leads to a happier life. Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remind yourself daily of what is really important in life. If you need additional pointers on this don’t hesitate to read “The Subtle Art of Not Giving A F*CK.” It really is quite enlightening. A good read.
Fixing the Relationship Problem:
Our inability to build healthy relationships is, in my opinion, the downside of social media. Do you see people talk in coffee shops anymore? Maybe a study group. Everyone else is on their phone. Do you feel awkward when the person in the grocery store line starts talking to you? Why yes. Yes, I do. How many relationships have you seen wrecked because of a DM? While we might be more connected to different groups across the world, our close relationships have suffered. I’ve pondered this for a while, but I have not been able to determine a fix. It is part of our world now. All I can say is keep in touch with your friends, value your spouse, love your people.
*Not only does social media cut us off from real social relationships, but it also stunts original thinking. But, I digress. I will leave that for another article.*
Fixing the “Letting Go” problem:
This is a mindset. It is all about resilience. As people grow older they realize life is short. Sweating the small stuff just starts to roll off their shoulders. But, how do you train your body to let it go? I solicit your opinions!
Bringing it all together
Marcus Aurelius Antonius had it right, in simple terms that is, but that is all we really need. I think many of us tend to overanalyze or overcomplicate very simple ideas. Certainly, I do. But, it is so very simple. Think happy, be happy, love. Keep it simple. Use whatever tool at your disposal to help you improve these areas of your life. I suppose this is where meditation and keeping a journal do come in handy, if that works for you. If meditation helps you let go of your stresses then do it. If setting up a monthly calendar of friend dates helps you grow your relationships then do it. The key here is you have to do what works for you. It is a simple concept, but it is hard work!
Finding your special way of feeling love and letting go could help you live a longer and happier life, and I think the hard work is worth it.
*This article is not intended to undermine mental health diagnoses or act as a substitute for prescribed medication. Instead, it is a mindset you may adopt if you are searching for ways to find happiness in your life.*