Does happiness come from within, or from “without”?
The self-help world seems to say it resides inside of us — and in the U.S. we spend approximately $10 billion per year on this inner pursuit through “self-improvement” books, seminars, workshops, webinars, and much, much more.
Our relationships affect our health
But, study after study seems to disagree — for extroverts AND introverts. A Harvard Gazette article reports that our “…relationships and how happy we are IN our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.” Citing the Harvard Study of Adult Development — one of the most comprehensive studies in history, lead by director Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School — this data has found that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels.
I confess, I love my evenings on the couch, snuggled up with my dog and husband watching Stranger Things or This is Us. I have also been known to crawl under the covers after lunch and try to sleep away those “adult-y” things I’m not ready to deal with.
But, one of my absolute favorite activities – even more than a nap – is Sunday soup night! Five of my friends and our families get together, visit, laugh, and well, eat soup. It fills me up (pun intended), both literally and emotionally, and it starts off my week in a supportive way. To me, it is the best of family nights.
Reflecting on how we spend our time
In a recent The New York Times opinion column, Ruth Whippman shares her experience moving friendless to U.S., where she discovered that we spend more time on our grooming than in personal interactions. And, not surprisingly, more time in from of the TV. (Oh so guilty of this, as previously confessed above…)
As someone who primarily works from home, I get this (although my dog doesn’t care if I comb my hair, or stay in my jammies until afternoon – maybe not the best example), it is very solitary.
I often work at a local coffee shop just to be around other people. I am actually in that very coffee shop now, and just had a lovely 10-minute conversation with an elderly regular whom I see here often. She and I finally introduced ourselves and talked about the history of our town. It will probably end up being one of the best nuggets of my day.
Add to the solitary work environment, the time we spend hunched over our phones and other devices. Even my dog nudges my armpit throughout the day to tell me, “Hey, you’ve been looking at that boring rectangle for a long time now, and I think you need to pet me.” Strangely, he is the one who usually reminds me to do one thing at a time, and revel in his attention and company for the true gift that it is. So wise.
A study out of Berkeley, What is the Science of Happiness, reveals much of the same things as the one out of Harvard: “…people who say they’re happy have strong connections with community and with other people.” While there are many ways to pursue this ambiguously defined, amorphous thing we call happiness, science seems to tell us that meaningful relationships not only make us feel good, they are also good for our health.
Maybe the real recipe for happiness isn’t found by sitting in a quiet room looking within, or in a book, but in a pot of soup shared over laughs and conversation with friends and family.
Black Bean Soup
½ a sweet or white onion, diced
1 diced green pepper
½ a turkey kielbasa, chopped into bite size pieces
¼ cup red wine
1 dried chipotle chili, rehydrated in hot water (optional)
2 cans black beans with liquid
1 can Mexican style tomatoes
2 cans fat free chicken broth
1 small can chopped green chilies
A few more glugs of red wine
1 Tbs cumin
1 ½ TBS chili powder
salt and pepper to taste
1 Tbs red wine vinegar
light sour cream
- Sweat onion, green pepper and kielbasa until the onions and peppers are tender. Meanwhile, heat a cup of water in the microwave until hot, then submerge dried chipotle and let rehydrate for at least 5 minutes.
- Add ¼ cup red wine to the pot and let it reduce.
- Remove the chipotle from the hot water and dice fine, and add to pot (if you like it really hot, add some of the chipotle water).
- Then add black beans with liquid (do not drain), tomatoes, chicken broth, green chilies, and another few glugs of red wine.
- Add cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper to taste.
- Bring to a boil then let simmer for at least 1/2 an hour.
- The longer you simmer the better the flavor. Just before serving, add 1TBS of red wine vinegar.
- Garnish with cilantro, lime wedges, chips, avocado, and/or light sour cream — whatever makes you happy.
Kendall has 15 years experience in strategic planning. She has increased impact and knowledge resources for philanthropic organizations including The Milken Family Foundation, large health care companies like Cedar Sinai Hospital, and publicly held financial institutions.