What makes a good life?

I was recently listening to a TED talk by Robert Waldinger entitled ‘What makes a good life?’, which presents the findings and lessons he has drawn from the longest study on happiness, a 75-year long study of over 700 men.  The question got me thinking about what does really make a good life for me, and is it something I already have or something I need to strive for?

I’m familiar with what the media often tries to tell me makes a good life and equals success – expensive cars, a well-paid job, having a mortgage, that adventure trip to south America – but all of those have one thing in common…they involve money, and allot of it. Therefore, according to the media, happiness and success = making and spending allot of money.  That just doesn’t sit well with me and it’s something I have never prescribed to.

However, there is another side to the story, and many researchers in this field would present happiness as having a sense of satisfaction, purpose and meaning in your life. It’s the ability to move towards and feel positive emotion, the resilience to overcome negative emotions quickly, and the sense of purpose in your life. None of which need to be connected to privilege or money (Berkeley Wellness, 2015).

Many studies have shown that money increases happiness when it takes people from a place where there are real threats or hardships—poverty – to a place that is reliable and safe. After that point money doesn’t matter much. Research by the Nobel laureate psychologist and economist Daniel Kahneman showed that money increases happiness until an average comfortable salary and after that, our emotional well-being doesn’t increase with income (Berkeley Wellness, 2015).

Something the media and retail companies don’t want us to cotton on to, as feeding our hunger for higher salaries and better material goods is filling up their bank accounts, which is probably not making them happier anyway!!  The study Robert Waldinger refers to in his talk, was an adult development study carried out by Harvard University where they focused on two different socio economic groups from late teens until their 80s.

While many different observations were made and the participants went on to lead many varying lives, the following theme on what makes a good life kept coming up:

  • People with good quality, not quantity, relationships with family and friends are shown not only to be happier but also to live longer. In addition, being in a supportive relationship has been shown to provide essential protective factors, which help us to fight off health issues, anxiety and depression.

So, what does this mean for you and me? I think the key take home message for me is that while I may not have or be many of the things the media or large corporations tell me I should be striving for, I already have a good life. I’m surrounded by people who I love and love me back and I’m comfortable, secure and stable. While money is important and I will continue to strive to be successful and secure, everything else in my life is much more important, having a job with purpose that enables me to help others, spending time with friends and family, reading great books and walking through the English country side.

Goals are great, but don’t make your happiness contingent on them, be grateful for the moment and the people around you each day and hopefully that will make a great recipe for happiness.

If you would like to hear this TED talk, please follow this link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mUCBz0HIiEk

What are your thoughts on how to live a good life? We would love to hear from you!

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