Some philosophers and thinkers have proposed the provocative idea that, although happiness could be qualified as the most important goal of human life, it is not really a final goal, but a process .
Maybe that’s why it’s worth studying what we call happiness using a wide angle, and maybe that’s why it makes sense to do research on it that will last 75 years: the Grant Study.
Related article: “The 10 Keys to Happiness According to Science”
Psychology applied to happiness
Until recently, applied psychology focused on the study of mental disorders and inappropriate behaviour patterns.
From the first behaviorists, who basically wanted to turn children into machines to achieve the goals set by their parents, to the direct disciples of Sigmund Freud, for whom practically everyone had mental problems, this young science seemed to orbit around the idea of the lesser evil: better to mitigate the symptoms of this disorder than to let it express itself, better to spend time and effort on correcting these behaviors than to keep them expressing themselves, etc.
At the end of the 20th century positive psychology made its appearance and placed the study of happiness at the centre of this approach . However, long before that, one of the most interesting studies on what produces us well-being had already begun. The Grant Study of Harvard University, begun in 1938, has been investigating for decades the development of a generation of adults who in the 1930s were of university age.
Today, many of these volunteers are still alive and continue to report for interviews and periodic medical examinations to let researchers know how their health and outlook on life is changing. In turn, some of the scientists who drove the research during its early years of development are still alive and involved in the project, although many generations have already passed through the management and direction of the study.
Seven decades of research condensed into one idea
One of the main objectives of this research is to be able to see with perspective that which influences the development of our health and our perception of living a happy life . That is why one of the questions that has been tried to answer is: what makes us happy?
According to Robert Waldinger , the current director of this project, the answer is: warm social relationships based on trust . When examining the variables that are related to the perception of being happy, most of them refer to the way we relate to each other. It is not only important to have many people we have been able to count on throughout our lives: the quality of these relationships, the degree to which we know we can trust them, is also relevant.
What makes us happy
Of course, you can always be more specific. Within the idea that friendly and to some extent intimate social relationships are good for both our health and our level of happiness, there are several nuances to be taken into account . We will discuss them below.
1. Feeling alone is associated with poor health
It doesn’t matter if many people know our name and talk to us regularly : the feeling of loneliness is carried inside, and if it appears, it is more likely that we will not reach the levels of happiness we would like. In addition, we will tend to lead less healthy habits that will harm our health.
2. The importance of displays of affection in childhood
In line with what psychologists such as John Bowlby discovered, having a parenting style in which our parents gave us affection is a surprisingly important factor that leaves a significant mark on our psychological development as we reach adulthood. Having felt helpless during our first years of life makes us see happiness more distant .
3. Social relationships are also useful
Having a good relationship with people is not only pleasant and stimulates us psychologically by improving our mental health: it is also associated with having more opportunities for professional success and intellectual development , which in turn is linked to the degree of happiness we feel.
- Shenk, J. W. (2009). What makes us happy? The Atlantic. Available at: http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2009/06/what-makes-us-happy/307439/