We’ve all heard countless studies, articles and TV interviews on happiness. But the other day I stumbled upon something that is just now being revealed to the media for the first time.* It’s a 72 year old study that began all the way back in 1937 when 268 Harvard University sophomores were asked to participate in a study measuring “a formula-some mix of love, work, and adaptation-for a good life.” And while many of those who were college sophomores in 1937 are now dying or in their fading twilight, this study continues to be diligently maintained to this very day.
And never before has science been able to report such fascinating and thoroughly time-tested results on happiness. Following are 3 powerful lessons from this study.
1. Have a Healthy Outlet
So many of the people in this study seemed to have all their ducks in a row. In their prime years in the 1950’s and 1960’s, they were making big money in powerful careers. They had beautiful families and lived in idyllic neighborhoods. Oddly enough, later in life, many of these fortunate people ended up breaking down mentally and physically. Why? If one didn’t have a healthy outlet for their fears, nerves, and struggles, it was only a matter of time before repressed demons erupted to the surface. The happiest people in this study had a healthy outlet. They were altruistic or had a rich sense of humor. They funneled their issues into sport, “their lust into courtship.”
It’s something important to consider. As the study proves, a human being can get away with sustaining daily nerves, fears, and doubts for a number of years. But ultimately, such a nervous nelly will crack. If you haven’t already, develop an outlet…find a sport, commit to helping others, lighten up, and laugh more often. A wise one said, “A person without a sense of humor is like a wagon without springs, jolted by every pebble in the road.”
2. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
This study, as reported in Atlantic Magazine, was summed up beautifully by the journalist Joshua Shenk: “Herein lies the key to a good life–not rules to follow, nor problems to avoid– but an engaged humility, an earnest acceptance of life’s pains and promises.”
In other words, one can only carry the burden of a big ego and lots of pride for so long before your proverbial knees will buckle. Don’t take life too seriously. We all have weaknesses. Do you really want to battle your dark side year after year? Or might it just be time to lay down your arms, take a deep breath, and enjoy life. It’s shorter than you think.
3. Happiness Must be Shared
The other night I was watching the movie adaptation of Into the Wild, the true story of Chris McCandless (see above photo which is a self-portrait found undeveloped in McCandless’s camera after his death). Fed up with the rat race, McCandless graduated college in the early 1990’s, left his worried parents in the dust, sold all his belongings, and ventured deep into the Alaskan wilderness. Before dying of starvation, he seemed to regret his isolationist ways and wrote these last words in his journal, “Happiness only real when shared.” According to the 72 year old study, McCandless was spot on. In the study, those who spent too much alone time ultimately struggled. The happiest subjects in the study were those who sustained meaningful, healthy relationships with friends and family. One can never give enough hugs, say enough “I love you’s,” and send enough “I miss you’s.”