6 Secrets to a Joyful Life
Since 1939, scientists at Harvard have been studying a single group of 200 men. They have examined these men's lives on many levels and over many years, trying to determine what makes human beings thrive. What increases our wellbeing? What makes us happy? What brings us joy? (See also: 10 Ways to Be Happier Today)
Last year, the lead scientist on the study, George Valliant, published his conclusions. While the study is more qualitative than quantitative in nature, he found some fascinating trends pertaining to the human pursuit of joy. In fact, what he discovered may blow all of your assumptions about what it takes to live a joyful life out of the water.
1. Joy = Love
Cheesy? Sure. But it's also true.
Valliant found, quite clearly, that joyful people are those with love in their lives. The more love, the more joy. In fact, even men in the study who improved only marginally in the amounts they were able to give and receive love showed marked improvements in their levels of joy. (See also: How to Make a Relationship Work When One Partner Earns More)
Valliant also found, overall, that many of the men improved in their capacities to love and be loved as they got older. Even those who learned negative lessons about love in childhood expanded those capacities as they got older.
2. Childhood is Important . . .
Speaking of childhood, the men in the Grant study who grew up in loving homes, and especially those men who had warm relationships with their fathers, had the greatest capacity to love. Thus, given the point above, they also had the most joy.
Learning to love in childhood is important because of the ways that it trains the brain. When a child learns that he is lovable and that people do, in fact, want to love him, he is comfortable with himself and others. He expects people to like him, and they usually do. He can carry this throughout his life, even when times are hard. His background provides him with a bastion of joy that he can retreat to when the world seems dark. (See also: Frugal Tips for Every Year of Your Child's Life)
3. But It's Not Everything
Even if you had a difficult childhood, though, that's no reason to give up on joy. Finding friends and partners who love you the way you are, who encourage you to be yourself and to share who you are, and learning to give them the same sort of support and space can help you learn to love later in life. (See also: Fun, Practically Free Ways to Make New Friends)
In addition, if you have influence in the lives of children, you can also enhance their chances for a joyful future. Learn to understand and tell your own story, so that you can both tell it to your children and choose to act differently. Then, provide your children, your friends' children, your nieces and nephews, and any other children in your life with the kind of environment you didn't have.
4. Things Can Change, Often for the Better
Joyful people remember that things can change. Many of the men in the Grant study improved in their levels of wellbeing over time, ending their lives much more joyful than they were when they began the study as college students.
Over time, we seem to figure out how to focus on the things that matter and ignore the things that don't. We learn to enjoy our work but to leave it there. We learn to appreciate the little moments in our days. And we learn that hard things are hard, but that they pass and life becomes bearable, and even beautiful, again. (See also: How to Make a Big Life Change)
5. Focus on Right Now
One of the major things that people seem to learn as they grow older is that what matters about a day (or an hour, a minute, a month, or a year) isn't so much what gets accomplished, but about how it feels. What matters, once we're old enough and experienced enough to realize it, is every moment. They are all precious, and there is beauty even in the worst ones.
This isn't to say that we should pursue pleasure at all costs, but that there is something to be joyful about in even the worst circumstances. When we can find that, articulate it, and direct our attention to it with intention, we can carry that joy with us even when the circumstances of our lives are difficult.
6. Simply Live
More than anything else, the Grant study seems to indicate that we improve our levels of joy simply by living our lives. Sure, there are always places where we can intentionally intensify our efforts to grow, and that will pay off. However, we will most likely grow in joy, at least a little bit, even if we don't focus our efforts on it directly.
So go out. Live your life, and find joy therein.
What's your secret to living a joyful life?