Aug 7, 2020 | The only justice in the world
IS THE WORLD JUST?
In general, this world is not just. Some people are born more wealthy than others. Some people are born prettier than others. Some people naturally have more energy than others. Some people learn faster than others. Some people receive more recognition and appreciation for their work than others. But, there is one thing just for all. That one just thing is that, none of the factors mentioned above substantially influences how happy you are or how long you live.
There is a lot of research dedicated to what makes people happy, and what makes them live longer and in good health. This blog posts lists a few key findings from the last few decades and sum them up to arrive at just one conclusion.
MEANINGFUL RELATIONSHIPS WITH PEOPLE
The Harvard Study of Adult Development was running for over 75 years. In this study, 724 men enrolled at the point when they were reaching adulthood (hence, “adult development“). They were then tracked concerning their health, relationships, and overall life satisfaction. According to Robert Waldinger, the chief researcher in the study, it turns out that not fame, wealth, or cholesterol level at age 50 but rather, the quality of relationships with family and friends is the best predictor of health at age 80. The study by Hilbrand et al. (Evolution and Human Behavior, 2016) also referred to this point. Namely, according to the Hilbrand’s study, elderly people who are casual caregivers both within and beyond their family, live longer than their peers who don’t do similar voluntary work. It’s hard to disagree with this finding — projects met on the way are often the only capital gained from the projects you do (as also reviewed in the blog post entitled “People is the answer“).
Recent research study by Alimujiang et al. (JAMA Network Open, 2019) showed that elderly people who believe that their life has a purpose, live longer than those who don’t hold such a belief. “Community, achievement, reputation, relationships, spirituality, kindness — these can all feed into any one person’s life purpose. So, there is not one specific definition for any one person.” — says the study’s lead author, Leigh Pearce. This might also explain the results of the studies mentioned in point (1). Namely, building meaningful relationships with other people is just one of many possible ways to grow the sense of purpose.
ACTIVE REINTERPRETATION OF THE SITUATION
According to Dan Gilbert, the author of the book “Stumbling on Happiness,” humans, as the only species in the world, have the ability to synthesize happiness. Namely, if we don’t have something we want, we can reinterpret the situation so that we can feel better anyways. And, we should actively use this ability to feel happier in life. It’s a very interesting concept and it’s hard to disagree. As research clearly shows, even after extremely lucky or unlucky events, the level of happiness always relaxes to the same baseline.
E.g., a famous study conducted at NYU by Brickman et al. (Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 1978) has shown that as soon as a year after winning a lottery, the lottery winners typically are the same or even less happy than before their lucky day. On the contrary to lottery winners, paraplegics don’t seem to experience a long-term decrease in happiness despite their tragic health condition. Happiness is like a thermostat and single events only pull you out of your homeostasis for a little while.
The famous Dunedin study is yet another study worth mentioning here. This study started in New Zealand in 1971. In the study, unlike in the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the subjects were tracked from the very day they were born. The major purpose of the study was to find early life predictors and determinants of the overall life success. We are now talking about “life success” in the broad sense—from health, through relationships, to financial wealth. So, what came out of this huge, 50-year-long research initiative? As it turned out, the best predictor of life success is self-discipline in children (Moffitt et al., PNAS, 2011). As it appears from this study, self-discipline matters much more than your IQ, the social status of the family in which you were raised, or even your emotional intelligence.
When looking at the above list, one thing comes out as a striking common factor. Namely, all these things depend on us rather than on external factors! No one will choose the life purpose for us. No one will build relationships for us. No one will reinterpret misfortunes to our advantage. No one will push us to wake up in the morning and go through our morning routine. No one will choose things good to us in the long term over quick gratifications for us. These are all our own decisions.
We tend to be so occupied with everyday struggles that we often forget about the most important things in life. And sometimes, it’s good to get back to the basics and think about these simple truths. After all, happiness — both at work and in life — is the ultimate goal of us all yet we often make it harder for ourselves.
Can you think of anything else in this world that is just? If so, please drop your comment below!