Especially for males, what makes a happy life? What does one need to experience peace and joy over the long term? Typically for males, this can be a question not often explored as the examination of ones state and exploring the true internals of ourselves isn’t something that we’re often pushed to do. So these questions can go unanswered.

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A study out of Harvard University could change that though as 75 years of work on 268 male Harvard undergraduates could shed light on what is important for men to live a joy filled life.

The Study

Do you remember the movie The Tree of Life? The movie essentially follows the lives of characters over their entire life span. This is very much what the study looked like as a team of researchers go updates from study participants at regular intervals throughout their life even as they were into their 90’s.

George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004 wrote a book about the study and the findings which included how our childhood matters, what we value as we grow older, the impact of money on our lives and more.

Of course the study did have some limitations in that it did not include women so it is difficult to say how some of these characteristics would transfer over to women given this particular study.

Relationships Are Most Important By Far

Perhaps the study’s most important finding, according to Vaillant, is that relationships are virtually the most important thing for a man in terms of finding joy in their lives. Regardless of career, physical health, money, power and so on, it was universally clear that without loving and supportive relationships, men in the study were not happy.

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Creating connection with others and building relationships of all kinds is key. This study helps to confirm other studies in that creating a connection with others socially and having a support mechanism is crucial for longevity and living a stress free lifestyle.

“Joy is connection… The more areas in your life you can make connection, the better.” – George Vaillant

Love Is Also Very Important

Right along with relationships is loving and not pushing love aside in the face of challenges in love. While it seems obvious that love would be a big aspect of bringing joy into our lives given at the core we are loving beings, not many fully recognize and embrace the importance of it.

Vaillant states that there are two pillars of happiness “One is love… The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

Career, Money & Power

The Grant Study confirmed much of what others have found in the past in that money and power do not correlate to living a happy life or feeling happier. While some may find temporary happiness in this, there tends to be a consistent chase for more and ultimately in the scheme of life as a whole, the importance around money and power diminish greatly.

“We found that contentment in the late 70s was not even suggestively associated with parental social class or even the man’s own income… In terms of achievement, the only thing that matters is that you be content at your work.”

In a career sense, the study found that feeling connected to ones work as opposed to simply doing it for financial gain played a big role in feeling joy. Those who simply chased the traditional idea of success, accumulating wealth and having a “good job” yet who were not doing what they loved to do did not find much joy compared to those who simply followed what they liked and felt drawn to.

“The conclusion of the study, not in a medical but in a psychological sense, is that connection is the whole shooting match.”

Facing Challenges & The Perspective They Provide = Happiness

Vaillant puts it in a comical and blunt manner, stating: “the capacity to make gold out of shit.” This is really all about learning how to navigate though life’s challenges and move out of the single minded focus and into recognizing the whole. It comes down to connection.

If we are able to see our challenges as opportunities to grow and change our perspective we can welcome them head on and move through them. As we see ourselves as victims, bottle things up and never express our challenges to others, we lose out on the connection we can make with the overall social support that is around us. Thus we can miss out on learning more about ourselves and growing through our challenges. In the end this leaves us feeling down and out as we never process difficult emotions.

The Relationship With Mom

Finally another very interesting yet often theorized idea was discovered with regards to a man’s relationship to his mother and father during childhood.

As Business Insider writes: “Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring.  Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were much more likely to develop dementia when old.  Late in their professional lives, the men’s boyhood relationships with their mothers — but not their fathers — were associated with effectiveness at work.  On the other hand, warm childhood relations with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased ‘life satisfaction’ at age 75 — whereas the warmth of childhood relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75.”

While a well connected childhood would obviously have its benefits, these findings help to illustrate the importance of experiences that take place during the influential learning years for a person. This may also lend to the idea that the straight focus on education being king during those years can actually be quite limiting, and at times damaging depending on the pressure put towards making one’s education and success within it too important. Especially given the lack of quality within education today.

Final Thoughts

Some very interesting results I think here given the fact that overall human connection, relationships and more “priceless” experiences create the most joy in life. It makes you wonder why we are pushed so heavily to chase after material things and why we continue to still put faith in the idea that these things will make us happy.

It seems ego desires still drive a great deal of the decisions we as people make on a day to day basis yet the true fulfilment we are looking for exists beneath and beyond our egotistical wants.

I believe we are continually moving towards a time where that deeper inner desire to explore, know and experience true joy and peace beyond what happens at the material level. It seems more and more that we are searching for answers in that realm and that we are beginning to truly turn away from external materialistic desires as being the source of our joy.


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