The Greatest Predictor of Happiness

In the throes of winter, it is nice to dream of paradise.  Apparently, paradise is better when the view is shared with people you love.

In the throes of winter, it is nice to dream of paradise.  Apparently, paradise is better when the view is shared with people you love.

Jack Nicholson, Hollywood heavy-hitter and devilish womanizer, recently admitted that at age 77 he is lonely and scared of dying alone. He lamented, “I would love that one last romance but I’m not very realistic about it happening.  What I can’t deny is my yearning.”  

Will his estimable wealth soothe the ache? Unlikely. He continued, “I have had everything a man could ask for but no one could say I’m successful with affairs of the heart.”

Jack Nicholson’s insightful commentary echoes that of another famous artist and celebrity, Billy Joel. In his recently released biography, Joel states, “You can have all the money in the world, you can have mansions, you can have properties, you can have yachts, you can have limousines, you can have motorcycles.” But without love, “It doesn’t mean a goddamn thing.”  

Despite the ability to sell out venues like Madison Square Garden, Joel says poignantly, “None of those people in the arena screaming your name really know you. You need one—one person out of millions—to know and accept and love you for being, well, just the way you are….”

Nicholson and Joel’s comments remind us of the importance of developing authentic and loving relationships—a concept rooted not only in personal anecdote, but also science.

Take, for example, the Harvard Grant Study, which followed 268 male Harvard undergraduates (from class years 1938-1940) for 75 years, collecting data on various aspects of their lives at regular intervals. The goal of the study was to predict the factors of healthy aging. Not surprisingly, the study concluded that even with a successful career, money and good physical health, man cannot be happy without supportive, loving relationships.

Jack Nicholson and Billy Joel are 100% correct---love reigns supreme.

While it is impossible to predict when you will find a soul mate, several key choices increase one’s probability for finding love. In 2015, I challenge you to:

1.   Prioritize love.

What is the likelihood of becoming physically fit and strong with only 20 minutes of exercise per week? Negligible, right? Similarly, I coach men and women who desperately want a life partner, but refuse to work more than a few minutes a day towards this goal. 

Log how you spend your time each week. How many hours do you spend working, sleeping, eating, exercising, texting, surfing the internet, playing video games, reading Facebook? Is there time for you to make consistent, dedicated and deliberate action in pursuit of a better love life?  

Widen your social circle. Spend time on online dating sites. Join clubs where you can meet more people who share your interests. Read books on communication and relationships.  Take classes to learn the art of attraction. Take steps every day towards finding love.

2.  Keep your heart (and mind) open.

If you have dared to love, you have likely also suffered the crushing blow of rejection and betrayal. I know…it sucks. But, your future success depends upon your willingness to brush off life’s lumps and get back out with an optimistic attitude and a bright smile. Find the learning lesson in every failure. Bury past resentments. Express gratitude for bullets dodged. Try, try again.  

3. Embrace love everywhere you find it.

Love surrounds us. Refuse the narrow mindset that only deems ‘romantic’ love as worthwhile. Expand your view of love to include the kindness, warmth, and generosity doled out by family, friends, colleagues and neighbors. These relationships are the playground where we learn intimacy and can practice skills of communication, conflict resolution, forgiveness and empathy—the very traits that are integral in a romantic relationship.  

4.  Be the very thing you seek to attract.

When I was single, my online dating profile indicated that I wanted a man who would rescue “a three-legged dog.” Enamored with my own behaviorally-challenged and irascible mutt, I knew my soul mate would possess a similar love of animals, compassion and largesse. (Little did I know that I would fall in love with my veterinarian!)

Make a list of the qualities that attract you. Grow in your capacity to embody these traits. Swoon for artists and musicians? Sign up for an oil painting class or spend time writing your book. Want someone who is financially stable? Pay off outstanding debt and save money on a consistent basis. Intrigued by sophisticated, cosmopolitan types? Brush off your passport and book a trip to Portugal.

Monica Parikh