• Colourful leaves are placed.

    The formula for happiness: The key to a happy life.

    What makes people truly happy? There are various opinions concerning this question. But it would appear this is without good reason as science provides us with a very clear answer.

What makes people happy?

The question as to what it is that makes us humans happy is as old as mankind itself: a slightly higher figure on our pay slips, five kilos less on the scales or someone who we are totally besotted with – everyone has their preferences.

Colourful leaves on pink ground.
Stick figures made of wood and leaves.

It doesn’t take much.

Now scientists from the Harvard Medical School are able to provide us with the answer. For more than forty years, Professor George E. Vaillant, the current head of the so-called Grant Study, together with his colleagues, asked 268 male Harvard alumni from 1939 to 1944 – incidentally also including John F. Kennedy – about their own happiness in life. In parallel, a related happiness study researched school children from downtown Boston. The data collected left no doubt: it’s not the level of a person’s wages, nor is it the number of friends a person has, and it’s also not the level of education or marital status that are decisive in a person’s individual perception of happiness. Merely the quality of our close relationships determines how happy we are.

  • Stick figures made of wood with red head made of leaf.

It’s all about love!

Fear not, all you singles out there, Vaillant has some good news for you: “The most important thing is definitely commitment. And here, it’s not about commitment to a partner, rather about fundamental relationships with other people.” (Interview with George E. Vaillant by Spiegel Online). From the study, it transpires that the influence of earlier life circumstances on our perception of happiness reduces with increasing age.

Thus, men with a good relationship to their mother earned on average 87,000 dollars more annually than those who claimed to have a bad relationship. And men who had a good relationship to their father proved to be less affected by anxiety disorders in adult age. This should come as no surprise really, because the stated events tend to mean a massive change to family structures, which are generally built on the basis of close relationships.

Stick figures made of wood with leaves as head.

Interaction is decisive.

After a tragic event, do I fall into a deep pit I can’t get out of? Or do I seek support from a therapist, grief counsellor or from my close friends? If I fall into depression, do I numb the pain with alcohol, or do I do sports to maintain a balanced outlook, and do I allow myself to cry until things are less painful? Nobody is completely immune to a crisis. But some people manage them better, while others get stuck in them.

How can these findings be applied in daily life?

Those that love with all their heart are the happiest.

Regardless of what the studies say, we all pretty much guessed it: it’s not good food or a nice holiday which makes us happy. It’s actually good relationships to people who we like and who make us feel great. Thus, it’s better to invest more time in good relationships than in your career. Your happiness in life is probably already in your bed – and not in your e-mail inbox.

Green clover on pink ground.