What Is It That Really Makes Us Happy?


Thursday, 9.44pm

Sheffield, U.K.

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. – Dalai Lama

I came across a TED talk by Robert Waldinger about the longest study on happiness – 75 years old in 2015 – so in the region of 80 now.

Waldinger says that many of us think that what will make us happy is getting rich or famous, preferably both.

But it turns out that what makes us happy – and healthy – is good relationships.

And there are three aspects to good relationships.

First, it’s good if you have a social life – one connected to family, friends and your community.

Second, it’s not the number of connections that’s important but the quality of connections – conflict is a bad thing.

And third, being in a secure relationship in your 80’s helps your brain stay sharper longer.

It sometimes feels like everything we do is taking us in the other direction.

We spend time on our devices, shut away in a private world so that we don’t need to acknowledge anyone else around us.

That private world is filled with pictures of perfection – of carefully curated content that shows up the inadequacy and messiness of your own life.

And, when you see how perfect everyone else has it – or at least everyone who seems to be on your screen – you’re dissatisfied with what you have.

It’s clearly not a good thing – and people were rebelling.

The increase in meet up groups and face to face sessions seemed to indicate a bit of a reaction to how technology was taking over our lives – and not really for the better.

And, for some of us, the enforced seclusion required to cope with the coronavirus has actually rekindled fires of community spirit that had gone out.

In many places people have now met their neighbours for the first time – helped them out – been there for them.

When we are threatened we pull together – we suddenly find that we are stronger as a community and society than we are as individuals.

The fact is that this virus has forced us to change our habits in ways that that we might have done eventually – because it’s the right thing to do.

We should work from home, if possible.

We shouldn’t drive and create air pollution if we don’t need to.

We should look out for the others in our communities.

We should think about families and societies.

And, when things are normal, we’re too busy to do any of that.

And normal will return one day.

But will it be the old normal?

Or will we have learned something from this experience?

Time will tell.


Karthik Suresh

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