Want to know the secret to lifelong happiness? You need this

It’s a question researchers, authors and everyday people have pondered for eons. But the secret to lifelong happiness is more straightforward than you might imagine.

What makes a healthy and happy life?

For the past 80-plus years, researchers behind the ongoing Harvard Study of Adult Development have studied the lives of more than 700 men – and later some of their spouses and offspring – to find out.

As Harvard researchers have tracked the participants’ health and broader lives, the classic study has revealed many surprising home truths. 

Not least that close relationships – rather than money, fame or good genes – are what keep people happy throughout their lives. 

The study has found great relationships, including romantic partners, friends, family and community, protect against life’s discontents, and help delay mental and physical decline.

Dr Timothy Sharp, of The Happiness Institute, says the highly-regarded study’s findings are consistent with plenty of other research – not only into lifelong happiness, but areas such as health, wellbeing and longevity.

“Relationships is almost always number one, or at the very, very top of the list,” Dr Sharp says.

“There’s absolutely no doubt it’s of key importance.”

Why relationships are so important for lifelong happiness

Dr Sharp says there are several theories, with the most obvious one being that humans have always depended on each other.

“We’re very much social animals and we thrive and flourish when we’re connected to, and when we’re interacting with and helping others.”

He says good quality relationships protect or buffer against stress, depression and anxiety.

“But they also promote happiness and positive emotions. 

“When people are in good quality relationships, they’re much more likely to enjoy experiences and enjoy the positives in life.”

What do you need in a relationship for lifelong happiness?

Elisabeth Shaw, CEO at Relationships Australia, says being loved “warts and all” can be nourishing and supportive in a host of ways.

That includes knowing someone has your back in sickness and health, and that they’ll be there to both celebrate successes and share the load during difficult times. 

“Fundamentally, they assist us in feeling that we matter and are visible in the world,” Elisabeth says.

Happy relationships don’t always have to be rosy

Have the odd barney? Elisabeth says disagreements are part of good relationships too. 

“Inevitably we get irritated with each other and have differences that need to be managed,” she says.

“If conflict is productive and constructive, it helps relationships grow.”

How can I be happy if I don’t have a relationship?

Dr Sharp says an enormous number of people feel lonely and isolated, which can be an oddly reassuring thought if you feel like you’re the only one.

However Dr Sharp says it’s worth making the effort to strengthen existing relationships – or form new ones.

So join that book club, find people with common interests or give that old school friend a call.

“If it’s something that’s important to you, just like anything else in life, if you make it a priority and start to do just a little bit each day or each week, then it will almost definitely pay off over time.”

Written by Larissa Ham.