Previously I wrote about recent research on Ways we can try to find happiness, but in the end they don’t seem to work.
So psychologists have found that pleasure seeking and materialism may provide short term pleasure but they don’t make for a happy or satisfied life. So what does?
It turns out that lasting happiness comes from two main things – relationships and meaning in life.
It seems to be really true that we were made for each other. Different experts express it in different ways, but they all come to the same thing:
- “Love people, use things” – be a giver, not a taker.
- “Love is really all that matters” – “happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”
- “The more areas in your life you can make connection, the better” – a growing body of research links social ties with longevity, lower stress levels and improved overall well-being.
- “the happiest people spend the least time alone” – good relationships act as a buffer to other adverse circumstances such as illness or unemployment.
What sort of relationships?
Studies show that a stable marriage (or equivalent long-term relationship) is one of the main contributors to long term satisfaction in life. Other close relationships are also important and all our good social relationships are helpful.
Surprisingly, good relationships with our parents seem to have some positive effects even later in life.
The bottom line
If we want a happy and satisfying life, it is important that we cultivate good relationships, and work on being the sorts of peope who can maintain good relationships. “Ideal is one close relationship and a network of friends.”
You might think that wealthier countries would generally have happier citizens, but it isn’t always the case. Selfishly seeking our own happiness only works in the short term – in the long run, it dissatisfies.
Wealthy countries generally have higher rates of suicide and their citizens tend to have a lesser sense of meaning in life. Meaning is found in looking outside ourselves – in helping others and investing in a cause “bigger” than ourselves.
Having meaning in life tends to improve our mental and emotional health and makes us more resilient when facing tough times.
The role of religion
Wealthy countries tend to have lower levels of religious belief, possibly because they are more materialistic and hence self focused. Research has shown that religious belief is the primary factor in meaning in life, because it provides a cause “bigger” than ourselves and helps us to be less self-focused.
A double whammy
So if we want to have lasting satisfaction in life, we need both relationships and meaning. We need to look outside ourselves. We need to invest in helping others, build relationships with others, maintain a healthy marriage or equivalent. And altruistic religious belief will be a big help in all of these.
This may seem like a sermon from a religious moralist, but in fact it is all based on the findings of psychological researchers.
Get some more detail and references: