There are countless ways to live life, but what if one way was better than others? What if there were certain "secrets" to ensuring greater happiness, and we could reveal those secrets to you right here, right now?
Sounds like the tagline of some hippy-dippy self-help book, doesn't it? But the secrets to happiness may be actually be found in one incredibly in-depth study from Harvard.
Conducted over the course of 75 years, the Harvard Grant Study was one of the longest, most comprehensive studies in history, according to The Atlantic, which published a story on it in 2009.
The study began in 1938 and followed 268 Harvard undergraduate men who came from all walks of life. For decades, researchers tracked a range of factors in the men's lives, including intelligence levels, alcohol intake, relationships, and income.
In 2012, their astonishing findings were published in a book by Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 to 2004. In a Harvard University Press video, Vaillant describes the study as being the only one of its kind not just because it happened over such a long period of time, but because the 268 men allowed researchers to present their lives in a three-dimensional way, resulting in a book is a combination of statistics and anecdotes about the human experience.
Now, here are just a few secrets revealed through the study that tell us what it takes to live a happy life.
Value love above all else.
Don't underestimate the power of love, because it's the key to happiness.
Dr. George Vaillant writes that there are two pillars of happiness: "One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away."
“The 75 years and 20 million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop,' ” he says.
That's right, you heard it straight from the horse's mouth — love is everything. A person can have all the luxuries in the world, but without love, they mean very little.
Meaningful relationships and connections matter. A lot.
"Let me lay out 70 years of evidence that our relationships with other people matter, and matter more than anything else in the world," writes Vaillant in a 2009 Positive Psychology News article.
Even your earliest relationships are important to long-term happiness, namely the one you share with your mother. Business Insider highlights just a few findings that show this correlation by pointing to the fact that men who had "warm" childhood relationships with their mother were less likely to develop dementia later in life, and were more likely to have professional success.
And not only do healthy relationships serve as an indicator for overall life satisfaction, but they also are an indicator for career satisfaction. Vaillant says that having a meaningful connection to the type of work you're doing is more important than achieving traditional success.
Don't abuse alcohol. Seriously, just don't.
Business Insider reports the Grant Study found a strong correlation between alcohol abuse and neurosis and depression, and that these mental illnesses followed alcohol abuse, rather than preceded it. Alcohol, coupled with cigarette smoking, was also found to be the biggest contributor to early deaths.
Oh, and another thing. Remember when we said love and relationships are the most important factors in leading a happy, meaningful life? Well, alcoholism was the leading cause of divorce among the 268 men and their wives.
More money and power does not mean more happiness.
"In terms of achievement, the only thing that matters is that you be content at your work,” writes Vaillant.
And other studies support this assertion. In 2010, economist Angus Deaton famously concluded that increases in emotional well-being do not correspond with increases in annual income beyond $75,000 a year.
Another study points out that it's not the amount of money you make that's important to your happiness, but how you spend it.
So there you have it, money can't buy happiness.
The positive effect of intelligence also plateaus.
Don't get us wrong. This is not to say intelligence is not a contributor to happiness.
A 2012 study published in the journal of Psychological Medicine tested 6,870 people and found that low intelligence was linked to unhappiness as it was correlated to lower income and poor mental health.
But according the Grant Study, your IQ does not really contribute to your emotional well-being above a certain level. The study found that men with IQs between 110 and 115 were generally no more or less happy than men with IQs higher than 150.
Now, that's some food for thought.
You can find happiness at any point in your life, because it's never too late to change.
You might assume a person born with a silver spoon is more likely to experience happiness than someone born into a less advantageous background, but that's not necessarily the case.
In an anecdote told to The Huffington Post, Vaillant recounts the story of a participant who rated the lowest for future stability. His name was Godfrey Minot Camille, and he had attempted suicide before participating in the study. Yet, by the end, Camille was reported as being one of the happiest participants. “He spent his life searching for love,” explains Vaillant.
To take it further, those experiencing hard situations or change are able to find happiness with the appropriate coping mechanisms to turn hardships into learning experiences.