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You Don't Want to be Rich or Famous

Updated: Aug 18, 2022

A recent survey of millennials revealed that 80% identified being rich as a major life goal, and another 50% wanted to become famous. Yet the world's longest-running study on happiness found that money and fame aren’t major indicators of happiness. Instead, “good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

The source for this info? The world's longest-running (80+ years) study on happiness, conducted by researchers at Harvard University. Study director Robert Waldinger points to three major lessons learned from the study:

  1. Social connections are really good for us

  2. People who are more connected—to family, friends, and community—are happier, healthier, and live longer.

  3. On the flip side, loneliness kills. And 1 in 5 Americans report being lonely.

  4. The quality of your close relationships matters most

  5. A high-conflict marriage, for example, may be worse for your health than going through a divorce

  6. Good relationships protect our brains

  7. Study participants in their 80s who had someone they felt they could truly rely on had better memory—their memory stayed sharper longer

Waldinger points out that though this lesson is seemingly simple, “we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix… relationships are messy, and they’re complicated. The hard work of tending to family and friends is not sexy or glamorous.”

Yet, if there's one theme that runs through work in the field of happiness, it's probably this: the things that will truly make you happy aren't very glamorous. That's not to say a happy life can't include whirlwind adventures, glamour, or the things that make you feel excited. It absolutely can—and your life should include as many things as possible that that you want it to include. But, it's worth remembering that the happiest lives are built on a solid, less-glamorous foundation: including things like strong relationships, gratitude, and hard mental work.

So, if you truly want to be world-famous for your paintings, or make a whole whack of money—go for it. But remember that if your ultimate goal is happiness, making and maintaining strong social connections is the absolute best thing you can do. (Once you have that down, performing on a stage for millions or owning 3 mega-yachts will just be the cherry on top).

Want to learn more? Watch the full TedTalk by Robert Waldinger here.

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