Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

 

Have you made a lot of money this year? You did?

Are you happy now?

Oh, you are?

But maybe you're not. You're not famous, are you?

Oh, you are?

So you're extremely happy then?

You are? No, you just think you are.

I feel sure of this because I've just allowed a TED Talk to waft over me, one that has reassured me not to try and be rich and famous.

The talk was given by Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist from the Harvard School of Adult Development.

In these 12 short minutes, he offers the results of 75 years of studying happiness. Yes, life can be summed up in a very short time.

The study began in 1938 and Waldinger is the fourth to lead it. I cannot confirm that the other three became too rich, famous and miserable to carry on.

Waldinger is desperate to stop millennials from making themselves miserable. 80 percent of them apparently say their life goal is to be rich. 50 percent say one of their goals is also to be famous.

Millennials really wish they were Miley-nnials.

724 men were in the study at the start. More than 60 are still alive. (Women were added later along the way, just as women were when it came to voting rights in Switzerland.)

So what is the secret to happiness, the one about which so many books have been written and so many drunken conversations have gone on all night?

"Good relationships keep us happier and healthier," declaims Waldinger.

That's it? Really? The secret to happiness comes down the reading the last 30 years of Cosmopolitan magazine?

Social connections, says Waldinger, are "really good for us." This doesn't mean networking, oh Business Type. This means something real. You are familiar with real, aren't you?

Loneliness isn't merely toxic. It doesn't only lead to earlier illness and death. It rots the brain, too.

It's not enough, though, to be married or surrounded by (Facebook) friends. Your relationships have to be warm and loving.

What? You've never seen one of those? Oh, you live in New York.

If you're in a happy relationship in your 50s, says Waldinger, you're going to be happy in your 80s. You'll likely still be alive as well.

And when you're in your 80s, if you're with someone you still like and can actually rely on, you'll have a better memory.

The idea of being able to rely on someone is extremely powerful.

Waldinger explains that a good relationship isn't a hippy-dippy-we're-all-in-this-together-all-the-people-in-the-world sort of thing.

Instead, it's the deep-seated knowledge that when the fan begins to smell, your partner will be there to help you shovel your way through.

Of course, modern life isn't conducive to trusting anyone. Narcissism is only encouraged by social media. Friendship is often virtual. And, as Waldinger says, we're prone to believing in quick fixes. 

That, after all, is what an instant, electronic capitalist society is built on. Wall Street is the ultimate everyday quick fix. So is Tinder.

But we can never get enough quick fixes, can we? Somehow, we always need more because each quick fix lasts about as long as a YouTube video.

It's curious that relationships matter so much. We parrot the thought without necessarily focusing on what a truly great relationship feels like. 

Is that because we have so many "close" relationships that we know we can ultimately throw away?

Could it be that many people are unhappy simply because they can't find one or more people with whom they actually feel at home?

Perhaps that's why money and fame are so alluring. They give you the feeling that you must be loved -- in both senses of the word "must."

Where would we be without actors and singers not taking drugs, not cheating on their spouses and not getting married four times?

We'd have nothing to read, would we? We'd have no role models.

Published on: Dec 29, 2015