One morning, a friend called me in distress about her relationship with her boyfriend. There was one misunderstanding after another, and now they weren’t talking. After 20 minutes we worked out a plan and I’ll share it below. But it got me thinking about how easy it is for us to slip from what I call, The Simple & Happy Life Plan.
The source of this plan, one that has made me happier and less stressed than any other resource, is called, The Art Of Living.
It’s a series of short lessons translated from the ancient Stoic philosopher, Epictetus, and it gave me the 3-C Formula for life:
Control what you can
Cope with what you can’t
Concentrate on what counts
I take this to mean:
You can only control your thoughts, words and deeds. What you say, how you think, and what you do can make a situation better or worse, so choose wisely
You can’t control other people or their moods, or the weather, or traffic. That means we must be prepared to cope with the wild and wacky ups-and-downs of friends, family, and yes, even the weather. Always remember: You control your reaction. You can raise your voice, or you can be calm. It’s your choice.)
You must concentrate on what counts. Focus on what really matters in life, not the things that won’t matter in 3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days, or 3 hours from now.
But wait, what really matters?
The answer, according to science from Harvard University, is that we must focus our time and energy on people and experiences — these two things matter more than anything else in life when it comes to our happiness.
In a study that started all the way back in 1938, and has since tracked over 700 people (including JFK!), if you want to be happy, don’t chase money or fame. Instead, spend more time with others that you love.
The most important factor in happiness, long-term health, and wellbeing is:
The strength of your relationships with your family, friends, and spouse.
The study has also led to other interesting findings such as:
The #1 thing you can do for your health is to avoid smoking.
Alcohol was the primary cause of divorce.
Alcohol abuse often precedes depression.
But most importantly…
“The people in the strongest relationships were protected against chronic disease, mental illness and memory decline — even if the relationships had ups and downs. Those good relationships don’t have to be smooth all the time,” said Dr. Robert Waldinger, the current leader of the research study.
“Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker day in and day out. But as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.”
So what does the Harvard study suggest we do?
Well, it’s the same sort of plan I gave my friend to help her relationship… (yep, I’m a regular ol’ Dr. Phil here, ha!)
The Plan for My Friend to Regain Her Happiness & Relationship
Stop trying to have the difficult conversations via email. You must talk things through face-to-face. When he gets home tonight, go for a walk. We communicate — and understand one another — better in person, especially when the conversations are difficult.
Once you sort out the issue, do something new together. The Harvard study recommends livening up stale relationships with long walks or date nights. My good friends, Bedros and Di Keuilian, go out every Tuesday for a date night. It’s one of the foundations of their strong marriage.
Don’t ignore conflict. The old saying about “Never go to bed mad” is great advice that stands the test of time. This goes for family relationships, too. According to the Harvard study, we should “reach out to the family member we haven’t spoken to in years — because those family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.”
No one’s perfect, myself included, and we won’t ever live a life free of conflict, but as long as we work to strengthen the relationships with our loved ones, and focus on people and experiences, we’ll live a long, satisfied, and healthy life.
That’s what it’s about, not money in the bank, job titles, or hours spent at work.