Want to Live Happier? Science Says to Meet These Three Simple Needs First
Because of failing health and steadily rising debt, some people find themselves in the red zone of the happiness scale.
Near the middle, many others are somewhat happy with a few ifs and buts. If only they had $5,000 more in their retirement accounts, if only they felt safer in their neighborhoods, etc.
At the other end is the enviable bunch. They may not be the most prominent bunch in society, they may not have the deepest pockets, but from the depths of their hearts springs a fountain of happiness.
Sure, with happiness — just like many other topics — we all agree to each their own, one man’s meat is another’s poison, etc. But there are also a few common threads that string some of the happiest people together.
They are not groundbreaking, won’t break your back, and won’t force you to break the bank. It’s as simple as meeting some simple needs.
The need for belongingness
Since, well, our hunter-gatherer ancestors, the need for belongingness has always had top-billing. Maybe as humans, that’s just ingrained in us. Many experts have dug around the role of belongingness in our happiness.
Researchers Roy F. Baumeister of Case Western Reserve University and Mark R. Leary of Wake Forest University concluded that “belongingness appears to have multiple and strong effects on emotional patterns and cognitive processes.”
For people who don’t meet this need for belongingness, the researchers found “a variety of ill effects on health, adjustment, and well-being.”
Another research involving 25,186 adult participants in the United States found every respondent had at least one friend. The need for friendship drives belongingness, and very few people want to miss out on that drive.
Psychologist Mathew Lieberman also explains in his book “Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect,” that our neurons sometimes make us feel forlorn when we stay away from people for long periods.
Is it any wonder people join gangs, organizations, societies, and cults to meet this need? Clearly, one of the primary drivers of a happy life is meeting the need for belongingness.
If you have an underwhelming social life, developing social skills and connecting with others can start you off on the journey to a happier life.
The need for some alone time
Welcome to the new age where notifications ping their way to our wrists, our pockets, our desks, under our pillows, and just about anywhere we leave our smart devices.
Then, our colleagues and spammers bombard us with emails on our blindsides, social media and news channels feed us with an endless stream of news.
If you’re not careful, digital distractions will steal your precious time. Worse still, the distractions could lead to even direr consequences. For example, everyday users say email makes them miserable, while several experts warn technology could lead to depression, anxiety, and daytime dysfunction. That’s why people like Tiffany Shlain go on a tech Sabbath to help overcome this digital distraction.
But where the doors of digital distractions close, the doors of physical distractions swing open. In the times we find ourselves, pets, kids, siblings, and parents are often at home with us, and many people find alone time a scarce luxury. Even though I live alone, sometimes I face the same challenges.
Also, some friends in the corporate space share the same sentiment: “before I know it, another week has come and gone. And I have done nothing meaningful with my time, I have seen no changes in my life,” some of them moan.
That’s why some people have found creative ways to create some alone time to look in the rearview mirror and steer their lives on the right path.
Former US secretary of state George Schultz often carved out an hour every week for that purpose. He would lock himself in the office to think about critical issues about his life and country, reportedly only taking calls from the president and his wife in those moments.
Oprah Winfrey and Bill Gates deliberately block off an hour every day to think things through. No external distractions, just internal reflections.
Everyone needs some alone time to themselves so they can gather their thoughts and direct their lives. From theories around three hours of creative flow to finding time to meditate every day, having some alone time plays a crucial role in making people happy.
The need for autonomy
These days, it seems everyone wants a bite at the freedom buffet. Adolescents want fewer instructions from parents, and students want more leeway from teachers. Even in the corporate world, workers crave the freedom and flexibility to focus more on the task than the stringent rules.
Everyone is crying for autonomy. People want to live life on their own terms with no one dictating too many instructions to them. And when people feel they can live with fewer instructions, they end up happier.
Couples who feel their significant others give them freedom are often happier and enjoy better relationships. In her work on autonomy titled Self-Determination Theory, researcher Lisa Legault of Clarkson University found that “Receiving autonomy support from a friend or a partner in a relationship leads to increased relationship quality and psychological well-being.”
Even in the corporate world, workers who enjoy more autonomy in the creative industry are happier and more productive on the job. Enjoying some level of autonomy makes people happy, after all.
Most of us want to live happier lives, even if we all have different definitions of what makes us happy. For some, it’s lots of money. Some others plump for household polarity.
The good news is everything is in your hands. You’re in control of your score on the happiness meter. Chase the “bigger things like money, fame, exotic islands, and world-wide dominance in your chosen field” if that’s what makes you happy.
But for some of the happiest people on earth, happiness means meeting these simple needs.
1. The need for belongingness: joining forces and interacting with friends, family, teammates, groups, and even strangers.
2. The need for some alone time: blocking every distraction and shutting out every voice to hear their thoughts, look within themselves, and direct their paths in life.
3. The need for autonomy: finding the freedom to live life on one’s terms with few restrictions.