I watched a Ted Talk recently that floated a startling statistic. According to the speaker who had attended his class reunion at Yale University, 80% of his classmates when asked the question, “Are you happy?” answered in the negative and described themselves as “Unhappy.”
I should not have been surprised. There are many rich and accomplished men and women who despite all the trappings of success, worthwhile jobs, second homes, travels to exotic locales, a round of golf each weekend and a newly leased Porsche every two years, who would offer a similar response, sighing in resignation as they exclaimed, “I’m just not the happy type.”
What I’ve learned is, no matter how strongly you point out their blessings, their health, their wealth, their freedoms compared to the world’s millions of refugees and families struggling to survive, the common denominator is a single-minded focus on their own emotional ups and downs and perceived problems.
The change takes place when the focus shifts from self-centered and leaves room for the possibility of connection to something bigger than ourselves, the miracle of Life itself. We come to realize that we are born with an inner spark of joyful light that connects us to the source of the flame.
Every spiritual tradition has its own way of expressing this truism. Buddhists call it our True Nature; Christians call it Christ Consciousness; Sufis call it One with the Beloved; Kabbalists call it the Holy Spark of Light; and yogis call it the Self or the yoking of the finite with the infinite.
It is magical energy and when the ember is fanned it bursts into flame. And that is happiness!
If you’re not ready for the josh sticks and spiritual vagaries, there are broadly accepted concepts of what happiness is. The most famous is the Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year longitudinal study of Adult Development conducted by the university’s medical school. The study found close, loving relationships, more than money or fame, is what keeps people happy throughout their lives.
The conclusion: connection with family and friends is the key to happiness. The simple summary: love is really all that matters.
There you have it in practical terms; the study’s most important finding is that the most important thing that matters in life is relationships. A man could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but lacking supportive, loving relationships, he would not define himself as happy.
For those of us who are looking mortality squarely in the face, the gratification and sense of contentment that comes with connection keeps us in the flow of life. It is relationship with the people we love that keeps us alive.
This understanding is the exemplar that will guide us when it is time to die… when we are connected to the source of love, returning to the mother of us all.
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