I’m currently reading The Good Life, a book about the longest longitudinal study on happiness. Eight-four years long and still has an 84% participation rate. And what does the research uncover as the biggest predictor of happiness? Relationships. Of any type. Because connection is everything.
But was that what we thought?
Waldinger and Schultz write, “… for the sake of illustration let’s take a closer look at one emblematic keystone, a persistent cultural assumption, shared among many cultures all over the world, that is not only old but ancient and shows no signs of going anywhere: The foundation of a good life is money.”
They go on to write, “Aristotle, for example, outlined the problem two thousand years ago. ‘The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion,’ he wrote, ‘and wealth is evidently not the good we are seeking; for it is merely useful and for the sake of something else.'” And the authors share that Maya Angelou said, “Don’t make money your goal. Instead pursue the things you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”
So, others have tried to tell us that money won’t bring us happiness. But did we listen?
Waldinger and Schultz write, “When asked at the end of their lives, ‘What do you wish you’d done less of? What do you wish you’d done more of?’ our Study participants, male and female, often referenced their middle years, and regretted having spent so much time worrying and so little time acting in a way that made them feel alive: ‘I wish I hadn’t wasted so much time.’ ‘I wish I hadn’t procrastinated so much.’ ‘I wish I hadn’t worried so much.’ ‘I wish I’d spent more time with my family.'”
There’s that relationship point again.
The authors share, “Many of us imagine that our identity is self-created, that we are who we are because we made ourselves that way. In reality, we are who we are because of where we stand in relation to the world and to other people. The spoke of a wheel, if not attached to a wheel, is just a piece of metal.”
They explain that “attention is the most basic form of love.” As author Annie Dillard said, “How we spend our days is of course how we spend our lives.” We speak about this invaluable investment in financial terms. We ‘spend’ time. We ‘pay’ attention.
But what are we spending it on? If it’s on relationships… friends, family, neighbours, colleagues, community groups, sports teams, or whatever works for you… it will bring you happiness in the end.
Like the theme song from the eighties sit-com Cheers reminded us, “Sometimes you want to go where everybody knows your name. And they’re always glad you came.”
What are we spending our time on? And will it bring us the happiness we deserve?