Harvard recently released the findings of a 75-year, $20 million research project on the study of happiness. Over the course of the study, 268 men who attended Harvard and 456 men from inner city Boston were the subjects of their analysis.
They determined that the secret to a happy life is that “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period”.
Harvard got it wrong.
The key to happiness isn’t relationship with others. The true key to happiness is our relationship with ourselves.
As a Financial Advisor, I meet with people every day. I talk with them about their lives, their marriages, their money, and what is or isn’t going well in their lives.
We don’t meet for them to be analyzed, tested, or measured, so there is no Observer or Hawthorne Effect taking place.
In our candid conversations, they share the unfiltered version of their lives, taking me behind the curtain, and showing me the skeletons in the closet. Not for a research project or study, but because talking about finances can take many to the most personal and private aspects of their lives. I get to hear the truth that is often kept from everyone else. From this they share their marital struggles, frustrations with work, anxiety about keeping up with The Joneses, challenges of parenting, and the stress of just keeping it all together.
When you sit and talk with people every day you begin to hear a commonality that isn’t based on gender, a societal demographic, or where they attended college. You get to see the honest picture of the real “reality” that so many are living.
Harvard’s research missed the much more important piece to the puzzle.
The real key to happiness is our ability to truly find out who we are. Uncovering who we want to be and being unapologetic about what we want to do with our one life.
Many of us are so worried about who we are “supposed” to be, the job we are “supposed” to do, who we are “supposed” to marry, and every other aspect of the life we are “supposed” to be living. We end up creating a life based on everything we think it should look like, rather than one we actually want to live.
We do everything to appease the world around us. We try to keep up with family, friends, a co-worker, and societal expectations. All of which are born out of the notion that there is some idea of “success” and “happiness” that is just around the corner. If we get the newer car, have the perfect spouse, get the promotion, get the bathroom renovated, have a child, etc., that everything will finally be where we need it to be and we will be “living the dream”.
Only it doesn’t and we aren’t. We look for these outward things to fundamentally change who we are and create the happiness we so badly desire, but they don’t.
The marriage doesn’t work, the new car doesn’t change the arch of our life, and we don’t feel any different after getting the promotion. These things don’t change who we are.
Our society has transformed life from an introspective personal journey, into the outward consumption of stuff, relationships and things.
Having a loving spouse or close friends is great, but that isn’t where we need to be looking.
Relationships aren’t the key to happiness.
First, we have to figure out who we are.
What we love, what makes us come alive, what we are passionate about. It’s not about being the 86% version of yourself and only sharing the parts you think others will like. It’s not about changing how you act depending on where you are, or who you are with.
In being the chameleon that is willing to adjust and change to fit the idea of who we think we are supposed to be, we fundamentally give up who we are. We disregard what we want to do, what music we listen to, what job we take, what our beliefs are; all to appease those around us.
All the data and analysis was skewed if the subjects of the study gave up on their goals, dreams, emotions, and personal perspectives to appease and fit into the world around them.
Their research found themes with alcoholism, but how many of those men were drinking each night because they were going to work each day to a job they hated, to pay the mortgage for a home they thought they should be living in? Their lives might have been different had they chose instead to study or pursue what they knew they were passionate about or loved.
In finally stepping into the truth that is our life, we will find the greatest gift and the true answer to the happiness study. As the Harvard study points out, relationships are great. Those relationships will never do what they need to do for us, or bring us the happiness we seek, if we first don’t know who we are.
We can have the best spouse, friends, and family; but if we aren’t the real version of ourselves in every way, those relationships will never be what they could be.
This isn’t born out of any study. This comes from the unfiltered truth that I’ve heard over and over, year after year, from person after person.
I’ve sat with the man entering retirement who is in tears because he worked his entire life as a doctor just like his parents wanted. At age 64 he finally realized that even with all the money, marriage, friends, and “success” that came with it, he is just as clueless about who he is as he was when he was 23 years old.
I’ve talked the couple who finally has the second child, dream home, perfect cars, amazing wardrobe, great jobs, and the money they always wanted. Yet, they are struggling because neither of them are happy. They thought the marriage would be better, their lives would be more fulfilled and things would change, but at the end of the day neither of them know who they are.
All of those things, and even their marriage, can’t fix the fact that they haven’t figured out who they are and what they want out of life. They simply got on the conveyor belt of life like they were told to, checked all the boxes for what they were supposed to do, and yet the happiness and joy didn’t follow.
As a couple, they do have a great relationship and loving marriage. However, that relationship is not as important as each of them figuring out what matters and who they are individually.
Happiness doesn’t come from our surroundings or relationships. It first must come from us finding true love in what we see in the mirror. From there, our personal relationships will be so much more meaningful, for us and anyone we choose to have in our lives.
The Harvard team missed that the key isn’t the relationship with the people around us.