A very interesting study was done in 2002, looking at what made college kids happy(1).  Now, I know what you are thinking.  All college kids are happy!  Why wouldn’t they be?  They have no responsibility.  They get to wake up when they want.  They are free from parental control for the first time in their lives.  And then, there are the fraternity parties…

Not so, apparently.  Using multiple assessments, 222 college kids were divided into groups that were “very happy,” “average,” and “very unhappy.”  Countless studies have of course been done on unhappy people with various psychopathologies, but this was the first to focus on very happy people.  The conclusions were fascinating.

Several variables were assessed, including things like social relationships, personality and psychopathology, the perception of wealth, number of objective positive and negative events they had experienced, grade point average, physical attractiveness (rated by coders by looking at pictures), use of tobacco and alcohol, time spent sleeping, watching television, exercising and participating in religious activities.  All of this data was collected over about 50 days by having the subjects do daily logs.

The researchers were looking for the key(s) to happiness…what variable(s), if any, would be either sufficient or necessary (or both) to put someone in the very happy group?  The term sufficient in this case would mean that all people who had that variable were “very happy.”  Necessary would apply to a variable if virtually every person in the very happy group possessed the variable.  Are you with me?

Now with that very simplified explanation of the study done, on with the results.  Sadly, NONE of the variables evaluated were “sufficient.”  There is no magic key to happiness…at least, not in this study.

However, a few variables were found to be necessary conditions for high happiness…the one that this article is concerned with is that “very happy people have rich and satisfying relationships and spend little time alone relative to average people.”  It also helps to not be neurotic or have much psychopathology (i.e. depression), and to be an extrovert.

Bummer.  So there is nothing magic to do or get that will, by itself, provide happiness.  But, trying to manipulate the variables that are necessary to be happy is a good way to improve your odds, right?  Of the four (lack of neurosis, minimal psychopathology, extroversion, and rich social relationships), the easiest one to work on is the last.

Happiness does not appear to occur without rich social relationships.

Hence, the  “Y” rule in NOTDEADYET.  You are not alone!

So, don’t be a recluse.  Reading blogs and commenting is fun and encouraged (hint), but is not sufficient to build rich personal relationships.  What is necessary is to connect with others…in person.  And this applies even more, I think, to people living with the stress and inconvenience of chronic illness.

When you don’t feel well, it is very easy to hole up and not be social. I get it.  You don’t look your best.  You don’t feel your best.  You don’t have energy to be social.  You don’t want other people to think they need to help you.  It’s just easier to curl up with your dogs and watch Keith Olbermann!

But therein lies the problem.  Hanging out alone keeps you mired in yourself.  It becomes easy to feel sorry for yourself, jealous of others, and just generally pissed off that you don’t feel great.  And there is no one there to tell you differently!  You get no other perspective.

The next question becomes, “How do I just start being social when I’ve never been before?”

It starts with calling someone.  At first, maybe it will just be family members.  Connecting more frequently with them is a great step in the right direction.  Over time, you might be emboldened enough to call a friend to set up a date for coffee or lunch.  Then, maybe you can make a goal to call a different friend once a week.  Then…you get it.  Small steps.  But necessary ones!

1) Diener, E., Seligman, M., (2002). Very Happy People. Psychological Research, 13(1), 81-84.