Last year gave all of us the opportunity to tune into what is most important to us as we have wrestled with what it means to navigate our new circumstances and find joy. But what exactly brings us joy? What exactly is a life well-lived, and how can we set ourselves up to be happier and healthier later in life?
Researchers at the Harvard Study of Adult Development have been curious about this question too, and in the longest-running psychological study, they have tracked 724 men over the course of 78 years. Their research is clear. If you want greater satisfaction and health later in life, these three things matter.
Pursue Your Life Goals
Going after your dreams and goals is important. In the process of putting ourselves out there, we often learn a lot about our character, breakthrough limiting beliefs, and create meaningful experiences and relationships. All of this is not groundbreaking research. However, what is interesting is that the researchers at Harvard Study of Adult Development found that living our dream does not really have a significant impact on our happiness or health.
The takeaway? Go after your goals and enjoy the process. The process is a much more meaningful experience than achieving the goal will likely be.
Dedicate Yourself to Things and People Beyond Yourself
The types of goals that we have also matter. Those who were focused on achieving things that supported organizations, causes and people beyond themselves were the happiest and most successful. One of the strongest findings from their study was that relationships matter. We all must feel connected to others. So, it comes as no surprise that feeling connected with things and people in our careers and personal pursuits matters. The reverse is also true. When we do not feel connected to an organization, their cause, or the people in the organization, then we often feel uninspired, unmotivated to give our best, and in worst cases, leave for opportunities that do give us more connection and purpose.
The takeaway? Find your “why” in your career and personal endeavors. What parts of your job or role make you feel connected to things and people beyond yourself? Can you also get these needs met outside of your career or a particular role?
Heal Old Wounds
Experiences earlier in our lives can have a significant impact on satisfaction and happiness later in life. One of the most surprising findings of the 78-year study was that the single most significant social predictor of early death in adulthood was childhood parental divorce. Why? Most childhood divorces are associated with increased family stress and strain and can frequently contribute to anxiety and depression for parents and children. For some, the experience of childhood divorce will impact how they view relationships and seek to get their needs met in emotionally intimate relationships later in life.
The takeaway? As we get older, it is natural to review our life experiences and begin making sense of them. For some painful experiences, we may need the support of others to heal places that have never had the chance to heal.
Dr. Debra Rezendes – Resident in Marriage and Family Counseling
Debra has over ten years of community and clinical work experience with individuals, children, parents, and families. She has been published in the Journal of Happiness Studies and Autism Research and Treatment. Debra received her doctorate in Marriage and Family Therapy from Eastern University. She has gained specialized, intensive training in emotionally focused therapy (EFT) and Theraplay. She also has skills in cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), strengths-based therapies, self-compassion training, attachment-based therapies, play therapy, and solution-focused therapy. Click HERE to learn more about Dr. Rezendes.