What I Learned about HAPPINESS at Harvard Business School

Ooh scary and risky even… How to condense two hour long talks from Harvard professors that distilled years of work, research and experience on the topic of living a fulfilled, healthy, and happy life? I have had snatches of time over the course of this week to think about this. I wrote the first blog post on a ferry crossing The Long Island Sound the morning after my husband’s reunion. Enthused by the sheer number of humans that were drawn to the topic of happiness, this blog post emerged easily in a matter of minutes. 

After that quiet ferry ride the rest of the week was not quite my own as my son and I were on college tours and many of you know how that goes. But my brain did drift quite a bit to the words and concepts that were shared. And I did hint that I would circle back to the topic, so let me offer this summary…

Before I start – a caveat. I don’t think you will find anything too earth shattering. The words offered during these two seminars on happiness mirror the same advice we are constantly offering our friends, family or kids – particularly our kids (if you have some around the house) before they embark on anything new.

“Put yourself out there! Try new things! Meet new people, gather new experiences, and find new ways of thinking!”

I am sure my parents sounded off with this very advice before they left me on a campus in Southern California some many years ago. These very commonplace words of advice are commonplace for a reason. 

But what they – we – didn’t say was how to do this  – we say what to do, but now how to do it. My parents didn’t say Linda – march on that college campus and…

Be open! Be vulnerable! Let your guard down to let others in. The more authentic relationships you have in your life, the happier you will be. Self protection is confining – self protection squelches life experiences. 

This would have been helpful information and could have accelerated my/your/my kids process? These words – somewhat paraphrased – were basically the crux of the happiness lectures.

Somewhere in my 40’s right around when this theater group was in its nascent stage I slowly and somehow started to figure this out on my own and it dramatically changed the way I tackled living. Would probably be a good exercise to dig into the catalyst for this or perhaps it was a long building process? Hmmm summer project? However I got there, this way of thinking has undeniably informed and will forever inform what Grab Your Group and GO! is and how I imperfectly practice my life. 

The two lectures on happiness at Harvard Business School? The lectures only gave voice and reinforced some of my already firmly held beliefs and life mantras – how great to have them validated in such an auspicious setting with other aspiring attendees! And to learn that this way of life will positively impact my health, my happiness, and with any luck others. Giant bonus. Thank you HBS!

Here we go….

Boiling all that was sagely spoken at the two lectures on happiness that I attended into two sentences I would say…

    • Satisfying, sustained and varied social connectivity is a vital predictor of not only your happiness, but also your health – even more so than your cholesterol levels – really! 
    • People who seek out experiences over material things are happier, especially if those experiences offer opportunities to develop new relationships or strengthen existing ones. 

Speaking my language. And yours too I think/hope?

How does one achieve and strengthen social connectivity?

Per the talks and my own life lessons, it comes down to being consistently and authentically open to others – scientists like to use the term “be vulnerable”.  I don’t love the word vulnerable. To me it connotes weakness. I prefer the term unguarded – walls and barriers eradicated – an open source way of living. But I guess the scientists will be happy and relieved to know they are correct because when walls are down and barriers removed, you are, in fact, completely vulnerable. I stand corrected. 

In this vulnerability you find the power of a fulfilled and happy life, yes, but also a scary amount of risk. Risk of getting hurt. Risk of being judged. Risk of failure. Risk of rejection. So much risk. A paralyzing amount of risk. So paralyzing that it is at the top of the list in the book The Top FIVE Regrets of The Dying – #1 PLAYED IT TOO SAFE ie spent way too much time avoiding risk.

Per the happiness talks, vulnerability is ESSENTIAL for happiness. If you are unguarded/vulnerable about how you approach people and you are unguarded/vulnerable about how you choose to use your time, your life will naturally be amplified. 

In the talks I also learned (or was reminded?) that awareness that life is short makes us happier. Why? When we see and understand that time is limited, emotional well being becomes a priority. We stop deferring rewards. We get choosier about how and whom we spend our time with. We savor the present moments. 

My favorite line from the talks: Attention is the most basic form of love. When I first heard this, my first thought is that it is about paying attention to people. But I think that leaves something out. To me it is also: 

Attention to the experiences you collect. Attention to your surroundings. Attention to yourself. Attention to life. Attention to what you are grateful for. Attention is the most basic form of love. 

Full, undivided attention is not an easy thing to bestow. So hard! Our minds are often all over the map, we are thinking about the next thing to fill our time, the pull to check our phone is always there, and it’s so hard to not to immediately mentally formulate your replies when in conversation. But try. Consider what brings you the most joy in your life and lavish your attention there.

Bestow your attention with all of your might on your people, on your day to day experiences, on yourself and on all of the things you appreciate in your life. Seek out social connections with people that do the same and collect experiences like they are a finite thing. Because they are. 

We ARE our choices – build yourself a great story. 

That friends is some of what I learned at the happiness lectures. 🙂  Off to watch some TV. Just kidding. Not kidding, Totally going to go enjoy some tv. It has been a lonnnnnggg week and sometimes a night of passive entertainment brings me joy too.
 

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