Let’s say you took a reputable university — i.e. someplace like Harvard! — and then you went back a few decades in time and surveyed one of their graduating classes, say … 1980. Now, the results are potentially biased, because the self-selected responders are probably the happier people and/or the Harvard alums in their mid-50s who have the time to respond to a survey like this.
But still, it could be kind of interesting, right? You have a major university known for cranking out successful people and you’re asking those successful people, three-and-a-half decades later, hey, what makes you happy?
Thankfully, someone actually did a survey like this. Here are the results. It lines up a lot with other long-term studies of happiness. We’ll get to the results in a second, but first, check this out: if you want to be happy, focus less on money and realize that happiness is basically BS anyway oh, and understand the power of the U-Curve in all this.
Alright, as for this Harvard Class of 1980 stuff, here are the three main takeaways:
- Choose to be happy with whatever you do
- Strengthen your closest relationships
- Exercise and maintain your health
Seems logical, right? Let’s break this down.
Choose to be happy with whatever you do: This quote right here will explain everything in a nutshell:
The correlation between happiness and occupation, income or wealth is far less that the correlation between happiness and how people feel about their occupation, income or wealth.
So yes, your job might suck. But at another level, your job is what you make it. If people want to put you in a box, break out of the damn box. It’s doable. People do that every day. It’s hard (because of this) but it’s doable (because of this).
This is kinda similar to “change your attitude, change your latitude,” no?
Strengthen your closest relationships: Relationships and people are everything. That’s what you want more of at the end; it’s not work. (It’s definitely not work.) So, obviously focus some of your energy there. That includes taking vacations, as vacations strengthen human bonds. Please don’t come at me with the “Oh, work’s been crazy…” Yep. Work’s always crazy, baby! (Because you suck at the busy teat.) You can make time.
Exercise: Seems pretty logical. Read this, for one.
Alright. So now, let’s take it a step further, right? If you know these three things are crucial to happiness — at least for Harvard 1980 — then what does that mean for people who lead teams and organizations? (Which I’m assuming a good deal of Harvard ’80 people actually do.)
Forbes has this takeaway:
- Focus on how your team feels even more than what they actually do
- Invest in relationships with team members
- Promote their physical well-being
No. 1 and No. 2 are probably hard for a lot of “older-school” people — feelings don’t matter, the bottom line does! and I can’t be friends with my employees, I gotta drive ’em to results! — but No. 3 shouldn’t be. If your company is making millions, rather than hoard those millions, how about you reimburse a few gym memberships? Doesn’t seem like that big of a bottom-line hit to me, you know?
That’s the essential rub of everything here: research and actual studies and talking to people shows you “Well, this stuff is important for happiness…” and then those same elements, when people attempt to apply them in a work setting, everyone has no idea what’s going on.
Work is partially about deliverables, for sure — but at a bigger level, work is kind of the neighborhood you go to when you’re not at home. So why don’t we apply similar logical and emotional principles to work as we do to our cul-de-sac? Feelings and physical well-being matter there, no?