Happiness is what you make of life

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sunrise over farm

And there it was, in black and white print: Love is the key to a happy and fulfilling life.

It seems rather simple to “poke fun” at this shopworn and trivial response. However, the very next sentence stated that the first pillar of happiness is love itself, but the second layer is all about coping with a life that does not push love away.

Harvard study

The study, known as the Harvard Grant Study, has been in existence for over 75 years. It is unique partly because the long timespan and also because of the high social status of some of the study participants.

Dr. George Vaillant directed the research for more than three decades and he published a book with all of his findings. It did have some limitations.

No women

For starters, no women were included when it was funded and created back in the late 1930s. Still, it provides an unrivaled glimpse into the course of humanity as it has followed 268 Harvard undergraduates from the classes of 1938-1940.

The data on various aspects of their lives was collected at regular intervals and the conclusions are universal. It is interesting to note that J.F.K. was even a part of the original study, but his results remained sealed till 1940.

Life’s work

Even Vaillant himself provides us an insight into his personal life and why he chose to make this study his life’s work.

At this point, I promise not to bore you. Stick with me as there are five lessons that might apply to your pursuit of a happier and more meaningful life while working with youth and also your own family’s dynamics.

Lesson #1

Happiness is only the cart, but love is the horse.

Relationships serve to guide us all, but without those that are supportive, you actually only have a horseless carriage. This lesson seems the most obvious and easily predicted.

Lesson #2

Life is more than just money and power.

The Grant’s study’s findings echoed this time and time again. No one is saying that money and power or even career success are not a step to happiness, but they are small parts of a much larger picture. Although they loom large in the moment, they diminish in importance when we look at a lifetime. In terms of achievement, being content matters even in the late 70s!

Bravo for the privilege of growing older. Some are never afforded that opportunity!

Lesson #3

Regardless of how we begin life, we can all become happier.

One of the men in the study began with a bleak prospect for satisfaction and he had the lowest rating for future stability. He had even attempted suicide. Yet, at life’s end, he was one of the happiest in the study. Vaillant explains that this fellow spent his life searching for love.

Perhaps, in summary, we should never, ever give up or lose hope! Working with youth, working with the aged or even the difficult characters can and does provide the incentive to continue with the journey and the lesson!

Lesson #4

There is joy in connecting. The more areas in your life that you can make connections, the better life will be.

Strong relationships were the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. The study even indicates that feeling connected to one’s work was far more important than making money or achieving traditional success.

Can i get a “high five” for those of us in agriculture? We practically wrote the book on this lesson.

Lesson #5

Challenges and the perspective they give you can make you happier.

The process of growing from immaturity to maturity is a sort of movement that takes us away from thinking we are more important than anyone else to finding ourselves immersed in the needs of others. Coping with life is the capacity to perceive manure as a sustainable resource; making lemonade out of lemons.

How do we take that single minded focus and turn our own need and problems into mature coping mechanisms?

Inner spiritual

Think about Beethoven and Mother Teresa as role models to this lesson!┬áMother Teresa had a perfectly terrible childhood, but her inner spiritual sense was made stronger. She created a successful life by caring about others. Beethoven was even able to cope with the misery of being deaf as he wrote “Ode to Joy” by hearing it in his own mind.

Now we are to the “so what?” portion of this little article on life.

One year

In the past year, my connection with life and happiness took such a detour that I am still not completely secure with my own “journey.” Yet I can find pearls of wisdom and insight into every lesson mentioned in this study.

Move forward

It is not about moving on, but more about moving forward. It is not about growing older but more about the opportunity to do more, see more and be more!

Connections can and do sustain and allow us to survive. As much as we all may try to define happiness, it still is more about living in the pursuit of it.

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Bonnie Ayars is a dairy program specialist at Ohio State University, coordinating all state 4-H dairy programs and coaching the OSU collegiate and 4-H dairy judging teams. She and her husband also own and operate a Brown Swiss and Guernsey cattle farm. In 1994, Bonnie was named Woman of the Year at the World Dairy Expo in Madison, Wis.

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