What really makes you happy? Many people probably ask themselves this question in the course of their lives. Harvard University researchers may have found an answer. You have published a preliminary evaluation of the largest and longest-running study on happiness research.
For more than 80 years, the scientists have been accompanying almost 2,000 people from three generations to find out what has a positive effect on people's well-being. The study leaders Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz have now published the results in their book "The Good Life".
The "Harvard Study of Adult Development" started in 1938. It is still unique today, not only because of its long research period, but also because of its focus, which was revolutionary at the time. Unlike usual, the scientists did not concentrate on things that make people ill or unhappy, but on those that increase well-being.
As Waldinger explains in an interview, research into individual happiness is extremely complex and complicated. A happy life cannot be tied to a single factor. A number of framework conditions would have to be right. These include the socio-economic situation, social recognition and health.
Even if the needs of each individual are individual, the researchers identified one factor in the evaluation that turned out to be the most important for a happy life: good relationships.
The researchers mean not only couple relationships, but also family, friends, neighborhood relationships or colleagues. Even chance encounters can therefore sustainably increase well-being.
"If we take all eighty-four years of Harvard studies and boil them down into a single life principle, it would be this: Good relationships make us healthier and happier," say Waldinger and Schulz.
These results contradict the widespread assumption that material things, money or success at work automatically lead to greater happiness. All this is not insignificant, according to the researchers, but in the end good relationships in which one feels supported, valued and not exploited make the difference.
The public presentation of what many people understand by happiness is problematic. Happiness is often seen as a prize that you can earn or win and then keep for life. "Of course it doesn't work that way," says Waldinger.
The constant striving for this "false happiness" can even make you unhappy in the long run, the scientists explain: "Over time, the feeling solidifies that our life is here, while the things we need for a good life are over there or lie in the future. Always out of our reach." Getting rid of this attitude is easier said than done: "People are very bad at knowing what's good for them."
The researchers therefore recommend training the "social muscle". A nice word to a stranger on the street, a conversation with the single neighbor, or a trip with people you take for granted - everything can promote well-being. And that applies to all ages.
It is crucial to see investing in relationships as a process that you have to start over and over again, "second by second, week by week and year by year. It's a decision, as study after study has shown , contributes to lasting joy and a happy life."
Sources: Harvard Study of Adult Development, Interview Robert Waldinger, The Standard