Are you familiar with the plight of the musk deer?
It gets captivated by a scent and hunts for its source day and night—without ever knowing the smell is coming from the musk gland inside its own body. It’s the same with humans. We constantly seek outside love and pleasure when we all carry them within us already. It’s why connecting with yourself is the best way to find happiness.
The key to finding what we crave isn’t booking a European cruise or buying another pair of shoes. It’s to truly get to know ourselves. To understand that without self-knowledge, self-love and self-care are impossible.
Harvard professors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz double down on that in their 2022 book The Good Life, which dissects the findings of the world’s longest running study on happiness. It kicked off in 1938 when researchers started tracking 724 men, a mix of Harvard students and low-income workers in Boston. The aim? To discover what really makes for a good life.
Since then, the Harvard Study of Adult Development has tracked the same people and their families, asking thousands of questions and taking hundreds of measurements including brain scans and blood work. The second generation is now being studied. Over eight decades of studying these lives, the researchers found one thing had more effect on physical and mental health (including heart disease and depression) and longevity than anything else: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier than anything else. Period.”
It’s fascinating stuff—especially because the most important relationship is with ourselves. Connecting with yourself—also known as self-reflection—is a powerful tool for finding happiness. And true and lasting happiness is often rooted in our own self-awareness and acceptance.
When we connect with ourselves, we gain a deeper understanding of our thoughts, feelings and motivations. This self-awareness lets us see ourselves objectively, without judgement or distraction. We get to understand our patterns and tendencies. This can help us identify areas in our lives that are causing unhappiness. Then we can make positive changes to improve our well-being.
One of my clients left a high-flying and satisfying career to have children, then put all her talents and energies into running the family. When her kids were older and she wanted to restart her paid work, she struggled with the basic question of who she really was anymore.
Through our work she realised she’d been holding onto anger and resentment towards people and situations—herself, her husband, her children, her former colleagues who had kept climbing the corporate ladder, the fact that she was a woman so biologically had to bear children. These negative emotions were absolutely impacting her happiness. This is the short version, but by learning to acknowledge them then let them go, she was able to free herself from their grip and experience greater peace and happiness.
Similarly, connecting with ourselves can also help us to identify our values and priorities. When we understand what’s truly important to us, we can make choices that align with these values rather than making decisions based on external pressures or obligations. This alignment brings a sense of fulfilment and satisfaction—and can help us feel more in control of our lives.
One of the most important aspects of connecting with yourself is accepting you as you are, warts and all. Often, unhappiness is born from feeling unworthy or inadequate in some way. When we connect with ourselves, we can start to understand and accept our limitations and embrace our strengths and what makes us ‘us’.
This self-acceptance can bring a beautiful sense of security and peace, and help us feel more confident and comfortable in our own skin.
The wonderful bonus of connecting with ourselves is it helps us form stronger relationships with others, which the Harvard study found is key to happiness. When we truly understand who we are and what we want, then we have the tools to communicate our needs and boundaries to others and to form #relationships which are mutually supportive.
It’s a circle which keeps giving. Connecting with ourselves helps us learn to be more compassionate and understanding towards others, which can create greater connection and happiness in our relationships and lives.
#selfcompassion #selfacceptance #personaldevelopment #selfconfidence #selfactualisation #relationships #connections