Ask Beatty: What is Happiness?

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We are bombarded daily with hype and advertisements that try to convince us that living in a certain neighborhood, in a bigger and better house, belonging to a particular country club, having more money, a more prestigious job, associating with more powerful friends, having bigger investment portfolios and more material resources will ultimately lead to a happier and more fulfilled life.

No one can disagree that having these luxuries can and do make our lives easier. However, if you believe for one moment that these luxuries in themselves will pave the way to genuine happiness, you will be sorely disappointed. And more and more people today are discovering that they are searching for happiness and inner peace in all the wrong places and in all the wrong ways.

When I first began to treat the rich and famous in my private practice over three decades ago, I soon discovered that having the mansion on the water, the private plane and all the other material goodies did not translate into their being happy. Many of these patients were as unhappy and depressed about their lives and relationships as my Inner City clientele whom I treated in Montreal when I completed my graduate and post-graduate training at McGill University. The only real difference between these two groups was that my wealthy patients had the resources to escape for short periods of time from their problems and disappointing relationships — only to return to their cycle of discontent and hopelessness.

Sigmund Freud was right when he said that true happiness is about love, meaningful work and authentic connections with people who you care about and who genuinely care about you. If you believe this to be true, ask yourself this question: “How much time in this last month or two did you spend on nurturing your relationships with your significant other, children, friends and family members?” No matter how hard Madison Avenue tries to convince us that buying the right kind of potion or product will transform our lives, the truth lies elsewhere.

HAPPPINESS RESEARCH: The 85 Years and Counting Harvard Study

Dr. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist, is currently directing the Harvard Study of Adult Development — one of the most comprehensive studies of emotional well-being in history. The longitudinal study began in 1935 during the Great Depression and counted President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee as original subjects. The study tracked an original group of 724 men and more that 1,300 of their male and female descendants over three generations. They asked thousands of questions and took hundreds of measurements to collect data on what really keeps people healthy and happy.


So what did Dr. Waldinger have to say when asked to present his conclusions on this unprecedented study? He cited one message that came through loud and clear: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” He found that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.

Contrary to what many people might think, it’s not career achievement or exercise or a healthy diet (although, of course, these are important to our emotional, physical and psychological wellbeing) that keep us happy and healthy. So if you want to make one decision to ensure your own health and happiness — make it this one — cultivate warm, loving, meaningful and authentic relationships of all kinds!

The following are 15 emotionally intelligent actions you can take beginning today, that will help you cultivate stronger, deeper and more meaningful relationships with oneself and others:

1. Communicate the good, the bad and the ugly.

2. Be authentic.

3. Be helpful.

4. Be honest.

5. Be dependable.

6. Show appreciation.

7. Show empathy and compassion.

8. Apologize.

9. Have a mindset of giving.

10. Exercise patience.

11. Stay far away from toxins of all kinds, including toxic people.

12. Maintain a healthy diet.

13. Exercise regularly.

14. Get sufficient sleep.

15. Slow down and smell the roses.

If you find that your relationships with others need some tending and mending, don’t hesitate to make the first move. And even though we can’t change history and we can’t predict how others will respond, we will know in our hearts that we tried our best to make amends and heal relationships that were once important to us. That’s all we can do.


Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT knows online dating
Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT

Beatty Cohan, MSW, LCSW, AASECT is a nationally recognized psychotherapist, sex therapist, author of For Better for Worse Forever: Discover the Path to Lasting Love, national speaker, national radio and television expert guest and host of the weekly “Ask Beatty Show” on the Progressive Radio Network. She has a private practice in NYC and East Hampton.

Beatty would love to hear from you. You can send your questions and comments to her at [email protected]. For more info, go to