What will make us happy? Money, fame and success? A good education and an impressive salary? Maybe it’s being blessed with good genes or the willpower to stick to a regular fitness regime?
All these things certainly help, but as for the real answer, it’s surprisingly simple — or at least it is according to several generations of researchers at Harvard University. In one of the longest continuous research projects of all time, successive groups of researchers monitored the mental and physical health, wellbeing, income, social and relationship status of a group of men through their entire lives. 80 years later (you read that correctly: eighty years) it’s still going — and the results are pretty convincing.
According to the study, the greatest single factor linked to how happy we are later in life, as well as how healthy and even how long we are likely to live, is the quality of our relationships. Not money, education fame or possessions. The thing that will most likely keep us happy is love.
The research is in two parts and is often referred to as the Grant and Glueck study. It makes for fascinating reading and is well worth checking out in your own time.
So what can we learn from it?
To stay happy, do more of what makes you happy
If the key to happiness lies in maintaining healthy and satisfying relationships, then it makes sense that ongoing happiness is likely to be attained by doing the very things that are likely to lead to further happiness.
There are so many aspects of our lives that affect our relationships. There are many day-to-day ways we can work on always improving our relationships, from communication to planning for essential down-time.
Another area that can get neglected but which makes a big long-term difference to the quality of our relationships is the work life balance.
Work is where most Australians spend a good deal of their day, with most Australians working a 36 to 40-hour week (and many more of us working considerably longer).
Managing the work life balance
It’s easy to get caught up in one’s job or career. It’s understandable if we’re motivated by the need to be a good provider, or maybe there’s a drive for career success.
A healthy relationship can overcome many challenges. Nonetheless, if work feels like it’s taking too much out of us, then maybe it’s time to think about taking a step back. It’s worth considering not only how to manage the amount of time spent at work; it’s also important to think about how we manage how we feel (that is, our wellbeing and emotional state) when we get home.
Here are some helpful ways to better manage the work life balance, both when you’re actually at your workplace and when you get home.
1) Work on your communication
Effective communication with those closest to you is key. Don’t bottle up how you’re feeling if you sense that you’re not spending enough time with your family. Men especially are more likely to hold things in.
It’s important to realise that good communication skills are as much about how we say things as they are about how we listen.
If you’re concerned or are feeling the effects of work stress, talk it out with your partner, co-parent, confidential colleague, friends or an online phone counselling service like NQ Connect. Together you might come up with a better way of dealing with things.
By talking about it you may even realise that you aren’t alone. Remember, your family and loved ones are just as keen as you are to get the balance right.
2) Prioritise and keep track of time
Think about what is truly important. Is it crucial that those small tasks at work be done tonight or is it realistic for them to wait until tomorrow?
Knowing exactly how you want to prioritise your time will help to make sure you’re putting things in place to find the balance you want.
One way to get a realistic breakdown of where your time goes is through a timekeeping app (or even just a simple time diary). Both are very simple to use.
This will allow you to figure out how you spend your time. You may very well be surprised by what drains your day. Once you’ve got a better idea of where your time goes, see if there’s anything you can change.
3) Consider what you can change at work
Are there any arrangements you can change at work?
Can you work from home? Could you get some extended parental leave? Is there flexibility in the hours you could be working? This isn’t always an option, but you can look into your organisation’s policies to see what alternatives exist. Usually, it doesn’t hurt to ask.
4) Focus on your health
Get regular exercise. Not only will it help you be healthier, but there’s a known link between exercise and mental health. The exact mechanism as to how it works has not yet been precisely established, but exercise is a widely recognised de-stressing activity that can help a wide range of things, from depression and anxiety to sleep.
The key to long-lasting happiness is closely linked to the quality of our relationships. Work takes up a large part of our lives so it’s important to manage the balance between employment, family and relationships.
So enjoy the time you have with your family and (if they’re part of your life) kids. Try to leave work on time and plan for some time off. A decompression holiday can be as simple as a weekend away. If you can do this and look after your health — physical and mental health — then that will help balance out your stresses and worries, one step at a time.
Need help? You can find support services in northern Queensland or complete a self-administered K10 test for depression and anxiety. You can also join the online mental health forum to talk with like-minded people.