Contributed by Alicia La Hoz, PsyD
The contagious laughter of my one year old son is a reminder to me about what happiness is. Free of worries, predispositions or biases. He experiences new foods, new toys, new surroundings and people with pure delight. Everything is enjoyed in the moment. He basks in joy when he discovers something he didn’t realize was there before. Even older toys hidden from him for a time, when reintroduced, are interesting and satisfy his curiosity. Above all though, his favorite things revolve around relationships. He loves it when someone reads to him, shows him a new toy, plays with him, interacts with him – or is simply just with him.
As adults, we’ve created sophisticated systems of thought and behavior that color our perceptions of the world. Our experiences inform the way we see things and, more often than not, we question others motives and their intentions. Our lack of trust hinders our ability to take delight in relationships in the same way that a child does. A child has nothing holding him back from loving, from fully enjoying, from being content. A child’s happiness is not related to wealth or material things – it has everything to do with feeling loved and valued.
It just so happens that my son has figured out the secret to happiness at the ripe age of one…at least according to a recent study by the Max Planck Institute for Human Development. This study can shed some light on what truly makes us happy as adults. And while children have this down pact, we as adults, have forgotten and need the research to remind us of it.
So what contributed to long-term happiness in the study? The researchers found several correlations between life choices and life satisfaction, these are: marrying well, focusing on the family, going to church, working some (not too much nor too little), and being social. All of these components have strong relationship pieces to it. When we are surrounded by healthy relationships and we cultivate these, we are happy. Wealth, status and things did not even make the list. Ironic, isn’t it, that we spend so much time of our lives striving to achieve the wealth and status that we covet in others, but that those things, although helpful in providing comfort and personal satisfaction, do not hold the keys to happiness. If you long for happiness, dig in and take a closer look at your relationships. Invest in them and in the end, you may be pleasantly surprised that your return on investment will be happiness.