Happiness is a funny thing. If you ask 10 people on the street what happiness is you’ll get answers that vary as much as the amount of change in their pockets.
What’ll It Be?
In today’s go-go-go world, the “pursuit of happiness” often focuses on a never attainable destination that includes money, cars, clothes, “beauty,” and other superficial things. In fact, it’s easy to see the kind of power social media holds on individuals by way of how the number of “likes,” comments, and friends or followers he or she accumulates. Life can be full or empty, beautiful or bleak, long or short. And it’s almost entirely up to you of which of those it is.
Recent studies show that the average life expectancy in the United States has been on the decline for three consecutive years. While there’s no single cause for the decline, the CDC has determined there are three factors contributing to it, an increase in drug overdose, liver disease, and suicide.
Coincidentally, when a person focuses their “pursuit of happiness” on things that really matter, such as close, loving relationships and thinking about stress differently, these factors lose much of their influence. Strong relationships provide a support system that helps an individual overcome challenging situations in healthy ways that promote a longer, happier life.
The Building Blocks of (a Happy) Life
Psychology research uses the term “protective factors” to identify aspects, actions, beliefs, and experiences of our daily living that are common in people who live well and happy into their 80s — above the declining life expectancy. For example, the mythological Fountain of Youth provided our first clue: water.
The briefest action of experiencing water through our five senses each day can re-adjust our stress hormones creating a neurological sense of calmness and contentedness, which are the cornerstones of happiness.
Protective factors studied in connection with who we choose as significant others provide us another clue. We often say we are “close” to those in our families. But, what does “close” really mean? There are three ways of knowing if you and your mate(s) have the right stuff.
A “Closer” Look
The quality of a “close” relationship is about:
- The satisfaction in how we communicate with one another. Put into Action:
- Say “Thank you for…” more than any other comment.
- When your partner shares a struggle, be your best “Curious George.”
- When it comes to table talk, be genuinely inquisitive and ask things like, “What was your happiest moment today?”
- The emotional warmth we express and feel when we are together. Put into Action:
- Put technology away and play — have fun that relies on each other, not objects.
- Try recreating a long-ago romantic moment or a cherished family memory.
- Focus on making the other person happy — ask how can you can bring some joy into their life today.
- The intentional efforts at supporting our partner(s)’ way of receiving intimacy. Put into Action:
- Spend a few minutes each day being an active listener instead of a single-focused fixer.
- Dance in the kitchen to learn your couple rhythm.
- Choose a random topic and share a personal, previously untold story that relates to it.
Happiness is Here
These qualities are the characteristics that define a “good” or “close” relationship even if our health and finances are not the best. This is true even for those of us who are not in an intimate adult relationship. The key here is satisfaction with whomever we call family, which can include direct relatives, friends, and/or special communities (e.g., spiritual groups, book club members, 12-Step buddies, or card-game friends).
The quality of the relationships we choose is one of the strongest predictors of how long, how happy, and how healthy we are today and into our 80’s and beyond. In addition, we also have a bonus protective factor. When the quality of our significant relationships includes reliance and support our brain’s ability to remember is more likely to hold stronger for longer.
Take time to reflect, evaluate, and invest in your significant relationships. Happiness is within all of us. We just have to know where to look.
Contact Maison Vie New Orleans Therapy and Counseling for more information or to make an appointment.