I’ve written of The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest running study of happiness, ongoing since 1938, in my previous blog. The main and inescapable conclusion of this study is that the single best predictor of a person’s happiness is the strength and number of bonds formed with family and friends, irrespective of educational level or financial success. By happiness, I don’t mean the immediate transient feelings we all experience in various degrees with any given event or activity, which fluctuate with time, and are by nature, fleeting. I’m referring to the general baseline satisfaction, “ the human flourishing, a state of thriving or optimal living over a period of time” as defined by Aristotle.
Based on my readings of the studies looking at the subject of happiness, there are four essential elements we need in order to achieve and maintain this state as defined by Aristotle. We have already described the first, close connections with friends and family.
The second requirement for long standing happiness is the ability to forgive. For many, this one is the hardest – to forgive those who have wronged us. Nelson Mandela, who had been wrongfully imprisoned for 27 years, upon his release was asked if he harbored resentment against his captors. He replied, “Resentment is like drinking poison and then hoping it will kill your enemies.” He added, “As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew that if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I’d still be in prison.” Ghandi, who was also for a time held a prisoner in South Africa, was quoted as saying, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.
The third element needed for happiness is doing for others. Victor Frankl, who survived the horrors of a Nazi concentration camp, wrote a book about his experiences and how they transformed his life entitled “Man’s Search For Meaning.” He observed “that happiness cannot be pursued; it must ensue …as the unintended side-effect of one’s personal dedication to a cause greater than one’s self.” Michel de Montaigne, the great French philosopher observed, “The great and glorious masterpiece of man is to live with purpose.”
Mark Twain, who was an astute observer of life and the way we live it, provided the following, which is my personal favorite: “The two most important days in your life are the day you are born and the day you figure out why.”
In addition to the three F’s – Friends(family), Forgiveness, For Others, there is one more attribute needed for happiness – Gratitude. Robert E. Emmons, Ph.D, in his studies described in the book “Thanks”, showed that people who regularly practice grateful thinking can increase their “set point” of baseline happiness by 25%. Over 2000 years ago, the Roman writer Cicero observed that gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all the others
I would maintain that thanks are the highest form of thought, and that gratitude is happiness doubled by wonder. – G.K. Chesterton
There you have it – the four elements needed for a happy life: Friendship(family), Forgiveness, doing For others, and Gratitude.
I invite you to reflect on what gives you the greatest joy and resonates for you.
Take some time to reflect on your purpose, and write it down. You may wish to share it with your family members and your closest friends.
It is my fervent hope that you will find lasting happiness and it will light up every day of your life.