Yann Arthus Bertrand spent 40 years taking compelling photographs the world over. But there was one thing he couldn’t understand- why do humans have such a hard time living with each other? What is it about humanity that makes life so hard to understand? Why does each generation have to re-learn the same lessons over and over again? Are we all, in fact, really desiring the same basic things? Happiness, love, freedom, meaning?
Bertrand decided to shift his camera lens away from landscapes to people. He interviewed folks around the globe to capture what it is that makes humans human. In one segment of his film, he meets with actor Cameron Diaz, who shares her own powerful perspective about fame and true happiness. Watch the clip below:
So What Does Make People Happy?
Researchers of a 2005 study noted that there are 3 major causes of happiness: “a genetically determined set point for happiness, happiness-relevant circumstantial factors, and happiness-relevant activities and practices” (1). Since you can’t control your genetics, and your circumstances are often out of your hands as well, your focus should be on the 3rd aspect of long-term happiness.
They concluded that the best way to boost your long-term happiness is to take ownership of the things you can do, like these 6 research-backed tricks.
1. Strong Relationships
Harvard researchers began tracking a group of people during the Great Depression and followed their lives over the course of about 80 years, eventually also adding their children to the longitudinal study as well. (2) They found that close relationships, not fame or money, was the greatest contributor to long-term happiness.
Robert Waldinger, current director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, summarized: “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.” (2)
In fact, when the researchers checked in with participants in their 50’s, the way they described their happiness with relationships was a strong predictor for how physically healthy they would be in their 80’s and 90’s, which is quite remarkable. (3)
2. Learning How to Process Life Experiences Well
A 2006 study asked people to think about, talk about, or write about their best and worst experiences. Interestingly, they found that doing this activity for negative experiences was actually linked to improved life satisfaction and better physical and mental health; on the other hand, the same activity for positive experiences had the opposite effect. (4)
The takeaway? Learning to mentally process and deal with negative experiences in life is probably better for your happiness in the long run. But dwelling too much on happy memories might actually get in the way of experiencing happiness now. Interesting!
3. Staying Active
A 2017 Harvard study looking at people over the age of 50 revealed that those who have maintained an active lifestyle consistently (11 years or more) had better overall psychological well-being. (5) It’s encouraging, of course, to know that you don’t have to wait 11 years to feel the effects of a good workout. Pushing your physical limitations releases endorphins and makes for an immediate short-term “feel-good” experience!
4. Set Goals for Yourself (But Not Just Any Type of Goal)
Your brain releases dopamine whenever you experience the rush of a “reward”. So it makes sense that setting goals for yourself also sets you up to feel great once you achieve them. (6) There’s a catch, however. Setting “zero-sum” goals that based on material gain can actually lead to poorer long-term happiness compared to setting “non-zero” goals that “encompass the welfare of other people besides yourself”. (6)
Try setting smart goals for yourself that would benefit both you and the people around you (at work, at home, in your community), especially ones that help you foster better relationships. Meaningful goals like volunteering once a month, working out with your family every week, or learning something new at work every season, will go a long way(6)
5. Spend Your Money on Bonding Experiences, Not Stuff
You’ve probably heard this tune before, but you can’t buy happiness. So instead of planning out a big trip to Best Buy for family Christmas gifts, you’ll probably be better off planning a fun family outing. Or rather than saving up for the luxury car you’ve wanted for years, consider visiting a completely new country with your spouse instead. A 2015 study confirmed previous research that buying experiences is linked to a better life-satisfaction and more long-term happiness than buying ‘stuff’. (7)
6. Be Kind and Appreciate Kindness
A 2006 Japanese study found that happy people are better at recognizing kindness extended towards them, and are better at thinking about the happiness in “daily life”. Interestingly, counting the ways you’ve been kind to other people in a given week can actually boost your happiness in the moment! (8) So, take the time out of your day to show your appreciation for the kindness you’ve been extended.
Are you thankful to your kids for cleaning up the kitchen after dinner? Say thank you by treating them to a fun game of catch outside. Do you appreciate your co-worker pulling extra weight in a busy week? Treat them to lunch! Giving and receiving kindness like this makes for a happier life.
Keep Reading: 30 Things People Regret When They’re Old
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