Searching for the key to happiness? What is the formula to finding contentment? A Harvard study might have the answer.
Rather incredibly a study of 268 Harvard sophmores that began in 1937 has been kept alive to this very day - through decades of economic troubles, periods of war, peace, threats of nuclear bombs, oil shortages and terrorism. Plus, the participants own triumphs, tragedies, ups and downs. The point for the study was to measure 'a formula for a good life'. President John F Kennedy was even part of the study group. And several of the participants have gone on to write books or grant interviews based on their experiences over these seven decades and more.
The depth and breadth of this study has given us some time-tested results on how to be happier. Here are the key lessons on finding contentment and happiness.
1. FIND AN OUTLET FOR STRESS
The study showed that no matter what level of success you achieved in life, if you didn't have a healthy outlet to release stress you stood more chance of suffering from a mental or physical breakdown later on in life.
Your mind and body cannot carry all the stress and burdens of life without some way of letting of steam on a regular basis. The healthiest and happiest people in the group had found a way to express and let go of their stress. This was mostly through hobbies, sports, worthwhile causes and in their loving relationships.
2. LIFE CAN BE TOUGH SOMETIMES - FINDING THAT ACCEPTANCE
These Harvard graduates probably never expected to life through World World Two but they did. Life is filled with problems - some of which - like war - may be completely out of our control. We have to accept that we'll receive some curve balls from time to time and to go with the flow. Lighten up, even when things don't seem to be going to plan and learn to face up to and accept tragedy.
3. HAPPINESS IS A SHARED FEELING
The how of happiness lies in the relationships we develop. In the study, those sophmores who spent the most time alone were the least happy. The happiest participants had healthy, sustained and meaningful relationships with both family and friends.
4. SUBLIMINATION or "BEING COMPLETELY ENGROSSED IN THE MOMENT"
Sublimination is the channeling of one's energy into specific tasks and work. So it's not actually true that happiness for most people involves sitting on a beach doing nothing. People tend to be happier when they are truly engaged into an activity - whatever that might be - as long as it takes their interest and complete focus.
5. HAPPINESS TAKES PRACTICE
Like most things, happiness is a skill that gets easier and stronger with practice. In the book, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life's Most Important Skill by Matthieu Ricard, a Buddhist monk and former cell biologist who is often called 'the happiest man in the world', he says the greatest happiness is not found in small moments like seeing a beautiful rainbow, but it's in the practice of meditative exercises, plus a compassion and strong desire in helping others. He discusses how Tibetan monks, when placed under MRI brain imaging scans, show far greater happiness and emotional balance than the average person.
Ultimately, there are many paths, formulas and so-called keys to happiness. There is nothing wrong with researching for yourself the path to contentment as long as you appreciate and truly engage yourself with the actual journey itself and you understand and learn to accept that bad things do happen in this world.