People want to be happy. It is, in a very real way, the goal of life.
But the search for happiness often proves elusive. People spend their whole lives searching for it without finding it, often spending fortunes in its pursuit. People commonly, and futilely, search for happiness in acquisition, success, experiences, and indulgence. They search in these places because that is where they are taught by society to search for it.
However, none of them actually work to create happiness. That’s not to say that there are no benefits to these things, but the benefit they create is not that which people seek. It may be pride, satisfaction, ego-gratification, or self-worth that are attained and discovered, but not happiness.
So, if it’s not these things, what is the real source of happiness?
There is a 75-year (and counting) landmark study produced by Harvard professor, Dr. Robert Waldinger, that sheds light on this topic. It is one of the longest studies of adult life ever conducted. In his compelling TedX talk about his research, he discusses how those who lean into the relationships in their lives are the ones who report the highest levels of happiness. He describes how investing into relationships is a way we invest in our own lives because it’s not about the quantity but the quality of our relationships that creates fulfillment.
It makes sense: we evolved as tribal creatures and our mental health is directly impacted by our connection to our “tribe.” That’s why it’s not just romantic relationships that require attention. All of our relationships including family, friends, colleagues, employees, children, and even with ourselves require investment to thrive.
However, in this technologically-advanced day and age, we have grown ever more disconnected. Social media has exacerbated the problem because it is the illusion of connection: it scratches the itch of social interaction without providing the sustenance, similar to looking at pictures of food in an attempt to nourish ourselves. The situation has grown so severe, we have forgotten how to create a deep relationship with another person.
If connection is what is holding you back from happiness, here are five simple steps to creating quality connections in your life:
- NETWORK — Great relationships start with knowing people! Whether seeking a mentor, best friend, spouse, romantic partner or otherwise, it’s important to make the effort to meet people and constantly expand your circle.
- CONNECT — Once you’ve met or know someone, the next step in taking things further is to get together with them. Take the risk and reach out to ask someone you like to meet up for coffee or a drink. Make it a point to meet with them on a regular basis. It’s difficult to develop or maintain a relationship with someone you don’t remember is in your life.
- GO PAST THE SURFACE — It’s not enough to just talk about your recent vacation or business deal. Go deeper. Share details about your personal life if it’s typically a professional relationship. Be vulnerable — bring down their walls and armor by bringing down yours first.
- THOUGHTFUL ACTS — There’s a difference between knowing what’s going on with someone and genuinely caring about them. Be available to someone to bounce ideas off of or be an emotional support. With a gesture as simple as a thank you note or as physical as helping with a move, they’ll know you value the relationship because you showed them.
- DO STUFF TOGETHER — This seems obvious, but there’s a surprising gap in this step in today’s modern relationships. This is not meant to be a work session, but quality time to enjoy each other’s company and get to know each other better. This could be an activity beyond socializing at a bar such as hiking, boating, inviting them over for dinner, or even vacationing together.
Our lives depend on relationships. They are the source of both our happiness and success. Investing in them makes sense, but it takes intention and effort. If you make the investment, however, you will be rewarded with the thing you’ve been striving for all along.