The Pursuit of Happiness

Individual Counseling Insights From Westlake Village-Based Patricia McTague-Loft 

Throughout history, some of the greatest minds have expressed their thoughts about a subject most everyone is interested in: happiness. Abraham Lincoln summed up his view by saying, “Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.” The famous, and maybe infamous, playwright Oscar Wilde said with his usual wit: “Some cause happiness wherever they go; others whenever they go.”

A happy old man

Americans have a particular heritage in regard to the subject, given that our Declaration of Independence recognizes the unalienable right to “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” With all that talk about happiness, though, the question always returns to a fundamental question: What is the key to happiness?

With results recently released from a Harvard study that began in 1938, we may be a little closer to answering that question. Writing for, Marc Schulz, PhD and Robert Waldinger, MD say, “The researchers gathered health records from 724 participants from all over the world and asked detailed questions about their lives at two-year intervals. Contrary to what you might think, it’s not career achievement, money, exercise, or a healthy diet. The most consistent finding we’ve learned through 85 years of study is: Positive relationships keep us happier, healthier, and help us live longer. Period.”

As a psychologist, I must say that this news is hardly surprising, because every day psychologists see the reality of the opposite statement: negative relationships are the source of tremendous unhappiness.

Schulz and Waldinger develop the discussion about happiness in a valuable way. They point out that healthy relationships, like a beautiful garden, typically do not remain healthy if they are not tended to. Keeping your relationships healthy begins, they say, by identifying the most important relationships in your life, and point to seven necessary relationships that offer “keystones of support.”

Safety and security. Who would you call in an emergency? They are your security blanket.

Learning and growth. This person could be a mentor or someone who simply encourages you to keep growing, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

Emotional closeness and confiding. The one you open up to, no secrets.

Identity affirmation and shared experiences. Sharing memories with someone who’s been there with you is just wonderful.

Romantic intimacy. No explantion needed.

Help (both informational and practical). The person you have on speed dial for calling when you run out of gas.

Fun and relaxation. Your go-to partner for movies, sports or whatever kind of recreation you enjoy.

With those keystones in mind, Schulz and Waldinger go a step further to offer a chart where you can add the names of friends and loved ones, and then check to see if there are any missing “keystones.” Check out the chart here, and see how you’re doing in your pursuit of happiness.