A Study on Happiness

A Study on Happiness

In late 2017, I read a story that was both fascinating and inspiring. We all know Albert Einstein as the brilliant physicist who developed the theory of relativity and for developing the formula E = mc2 (related to mass-energy equivalency). Due to all his breakthrough research and scientific findings, it’s fair to say that most people will associate the word “genius” with Einstein.

In 1922, Einstein was at the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo where he was on a lecture tour. During the journey, the 43-year-old learned he’d been awarded his field’s highest prize — the Nobel Prize in physics. The award recognized his contributions to theoretical physics.

During his stay, Einstein did not have any money to tip the bellboy who delivered a message, so instead he wrote a couple of notes on a hotel stationery. He told the bellboy that the notes will be valuable one day.

The first note, written in German, is translated as:

A calm and modest life brings more happiness than the pursuit of success combined with constant restlessness.

On the second sheet he wrote,

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.”

True to his words, the notes were indeed valuable. In 2017, the first note was sold at an auction in Jerusalem for $1.56 million and the second note was sold for $250,000. Needless to say, these notes were more than any tip the bellboy would’ve gotten!

A Calm and Modest Life

As simple as Einstein’s words are, I believe they truly reflect what it means to be happy. Too often we see people devote their whole life working just so they’re able to afford their luxurious lifestyle, thinking it’ll fill a certain emptiness in their lives. The problem with this material pursuit is that people forget that money is a means to an end, not the end itself. 

Don’t get me wrong — I think it’s important to work hard and earn more money! Money can indeed buy happiness and reduce stress. The imperative thing is to not lose sight of why you’re toiling away on nights and weekends. Having meaningful relationships with your family and friends will go a long way for your sense of happiness! 

A Study on Happiness

So what is true happiness and how do we find it? What should we really be focused on? Depending on who you ask, the answers may differ. In one extensive study conducted by Harvard, researchers tracked the participants over several decades in hopes of revealing the secret to health and happiness. The study began in 1938 and followed 724 men from different social and economic backgrounds. 

Starting in their teenage years, the researchers followed up with these participants every year and asked them questions about their mental, physical and emotional well-being. In order to get a clear picture of their lives, the researchers interviewed them in their homes, examined medical records, scanned their brains and — as they aged — even talked to their wives and children.

According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard study, close relationships — more than money or fame — are what kept people happy throughout their lives. Key lessons from the study include:

1. Social connections are really good for us. Having strong relationships with family, friends and community helps us become healthier and happier. 

2. The quality of close relationships matters. Instead of trying to have as many friends as possible, focus on the quality of those relationships. High conflict relationships are bad for our health and warm relationships make us feel protected.

3. Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies but they also protect our brains. It is very helpful to know that we can rely on other people when the going gets tough.

Recognizing What is Important

So it seems to me that one would be happier living “modestly” and having genuine relationships, than to spend all one’s energy and time trying to reach materialistic goals that appear to give the illusion of happiness. Don’t let unrealistic portrayals of life cloud your judgement. Advertisements that show beautiful people living glorious lives are there to entice you to spend money. 

The constant pursuit of success often brings a level of stress and restlessness that is detrimental to your mental and physical health. At the end of the day, do we want our memories to be filled with work or time with a loved one?

Whether it is the musings of a world renowned scientist or results of an in-depth academic study, one thing is clear – money does not equal happiness. If you were miserable and depressed when you don’t have money, don’t expect having more money will suddenly make you happier. Money can improve your quality of life and your ability to enjoy what the world has to offer, but don’t expect it to be the solution to all your problems.

If you want to be truly happy, then you need to focus on what is really important — the people around you. Use money as a tool in your pursuit of happiness, and invest your time in building quality relationships with family and friends.