What makes men happy? In 1938 Harvard University began a research study that followed 268 male undergraduate students and began the longest-running longitudinal study of human development in history. Now, George Vaillant, MD, who headed the study for more than 30 years, published the study’s findings in his book Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study.
After 75 years and twenty million dollars, Vaillant sums up the findings of what makes men happy in five words:
“Happiness is love. Full stop.”
Is this so shocking? Is the answer going to be different for women? At the core this is what we all want, but are too buried in our protective gear to receive it.
Love in an evolutionary impulse.
To be loved means we are safe, we are fully accepted and we belong. If we belong than we know that other people have our back and we’re going to be okay when danger lurks. We can relax, be vulnerable and open up to the good that life has to offer.
But we don’t live in an ancient culture anymore where we physically belong to a tribe or not. It’s not okay to be vulnerable, but vulnerability is where love lies. Nowadays we have to dress a certain way, act a certain way, socially contort ourselves a certain way to find acceptance. We engage life not from any authentic core, but from a series of sub personalities. As we do this we create different masks to wear within our families, work and even among friends.
It’s as if we’re living from a “continuous partial self” and not a whole self.
But, one of the most important things to grasp here is that it’s not our fault, we’re trained this way as we grow up. To us, we just think this is the way the world works.
But we’re living in the midst of an important time in evolution where we are empowered through neuroscientific discoveries that with our intention and actions we can actually change our brains. We now know that what happens in our life, for example trauma, gets imprinted in our genes and transferred on to the next generation. As generations repeatedly practice engaging a whole-hearted life we can create transgenerational effects where being loving and authentic is a strength and comes more naturally.
It all starts with us right now and one of the best practices I’ve found for priming the heart and expanding it is the lovingkindness practice.
If the longest running study has found that for men (and I’d argue women, too) “happiness is love,” then it’s worth generating more love in our lives. If you do anything this week, take a few minutes out, give yourself this gift and experiment with this practice.
See what you notice.
Adapted from Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.