HAPPIER EVER AFTER: HOW CONNECTION ENRICHES OUR LIVES

Santa Barbara Lifestyle Photographer Doug Ellis

It literally starts when a word or phrase pops into my head, although I’m sure sometimes it’s motivated by something I’ve seen or read. It has served me well since I like to post an original quote daily. As it turns out, it’s surprising how it’s exactly what I need to hear on that particular day.

I always feel like I’m doing it as a way to connect with people, and it’s usually not until later in the day that I understand how powerful and perfect those words are for me.

More times than not, it’s something that’s very simple.

Today’s quote was….

”What are you waiting for? Happiness is a ‘now’ state.”

By that I meant you choose to create and live in happiness now, at this moment, and you need to do, or change whatever it takes, to be able to do that. It’s not some far away aspiration with a conversation that begins with “When so and so happens ______. When I get _______. When I’ve done _____, etc.” If the conversation begins with “When”, you are missing the point entirely.

So, happiness is really a state we choose, but there are so many factors that go into creating the experience.

It seemed rather happenstance that a little later in the day, I would end up watching a TED Talk about happiness with Robert Waldinger, the current head of the Grant Study, also known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of, if not the, longest running studies about every aspect of adult life.

The study has been following the lives of two very different groups of men since 1938. One group was made up of affluent students from Harvard; the other group was the exact opposite…..boy’s from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. So poor that most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water. What’s so interesting is that still today, the contrast of these two groups is very apparent.

I’ve got to be honest here, I thought…..”Wait, what?? They seriously had to do a study to confirm that connection and relationships make us happier? Does anyone really not know that?” But the beauty is this study goes much deeper. As in many things in life, the quality of the interactions matter greatly.

What the study discovered is that close relationships and connection are extremely important for us to live our healthiest lives. And disconnection, conflict, and destructive relationships are actually very unhealthy and contribute to our decline.

The researchers have broken it down into three big lessons or observations.

The first is that social connections are really important and that loneliness kills.

The second observation is that the quality of the relationship matters. To reap the most benefits, it needs to be a close and satisfying relationship. Conversely, relationships steeped in conflict are detrimental to your health. I think we all can understand that high conflict relationships are bad for our health.

The third thing the research has shown is that being in supportive, loving relationships isn’t just good for our bodies, it’s also good for your brain health, especially as we age.

George Valliant, the Harvard researcher who ran the study from 1972 – 2004, broke it down into these five lessons that he says will help you lead a more satisfying and happier life:

1. Love is really all that matters.

2. It’s about more than money and power.

3. We can all become happier.

4. Connection is crucial.

5. Challenges and the perspective they give you can make you happier.

But even he said the bottom line is “connection is the whole shooting match”, and “Happiness is love. Full stop.”

I had to smile when I read his observations.

I don’t think any of this comes as a surprise, right? Connection and love make you happier? I doubt anyone reading this would question the fact that feeling connected and happy benefits us in immeasurable ways.

In my experience, feeling connected is the most important thing there is. It roots us and grounds us, and without overusing the term….makes us feel connected to something outside of ourselves….of course a person or our people, but more importantly, our tribe, our community, our place in the world, really this whole beautiful planet and all of the magnificent people inhabiting it.

One thing I do know is that sometimes simple things are the best and can make us feel surprisingly connected.

When I’m feeling a bit disconnected, the easiest way for me to reconnect is to smile at everyone I see. A smile has the power to let another human being feel seen, and sometimes that simple act can change the trajectory of their day.

It may not be the deep connections that we all crave, but at that moment, especially when someone smiles back, you experience a brief burst of happiness, and it warms your heart. And isn’t that what this is all about?

I leave you with this beautiful quote that speaks to the idea of connection and happiness:

“Love is our true destiny. We do not find the meaning of life by ourselves
alone – we find it with another.” — Thomas Merton

About Tracy Finkel 

Tracy Finkel is an idea person, passionate designer, the founder of kindnessisbadass™ and breathinggratitude™…two ideas she came up with because sometimes she needs daily reminders to be her best self. A lover of many things on four legs, especially dogs…ok, dachshunds, and many things on two legs.  She is a meditator and yogi, although sometimes just in her head, a gardener, a traveler, and an adventurer. She is also a big advocate of owning your fabulousness and doing at least one little thing a day that sparks joy and rocks your soul. At breathinggratitude.com she blogs about whatever strikes her fancy, which leads to a lot of laughter while writing about internet dating and trying to connect in 2016. You can see her mostly daily original motivational musings on Instagram @breathinggratitude.

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