Harvard Study: The 1 Thing that makes humans happy

Nov 26, 2022

The 1 Thing That Makes Humans Happy

Thought of the week:

“Alone, we can do so little; together, we can do so much” – Helen Keller

In this newsletter, I share my takeaway from a Harvard study and Inc. article on what makes us happy.

Harvard Study: modern life is making us feel unhappy and alone.

(how’s that for a flashy headline?)

“We are spending more time alone than we have in all of human history. And it's making us terribly unhappy.”

The advanced world we live in provides an allusion of connectedness, but we’ve never been more separated.

Humans are wired to live in tightly-knit communities and lean on one another for connection & support.

But now we live in houses 20 feet apart separated by fences, sleep in different rooms separated by walls, and put our babies in rooms with noise machines only to keep an eye on them via a camera feed we access on our phone…

Our neighbors are lucky to get a wave + “Mornin” from us.

In 1950, less than 4% of adults in the US lived alone.

Today, that percentage has nearly quadrupled to 15%.

Solo dwellers are truly alone for 8-10 hours a day and even more if working remotely.

Those who live with others are still alone for 5-7 hours per day.

And the older we get, the more time we’re spending by ourselves.

Check out this graph:


And if you think we’ve just evolved to live this way, not so fast.

Humans haven’t biologically changed in the last ~10,000 years (some science circles suggest even 40,000-50,000 years).

We’ve tried our best to adapt, but biology can’t keep up.

This means we’re still operating with the same wiring we had 10,000 years ago.

We’re not designed to live this way.

Society teaches us to fend for ourselves, level up, stand out from the crowd, and be self-sufficient.

Those things are OK, but they ignore what we need at our core.

Today it’s easy to say we don’t need to lean on others.

It’s hard to admit we’re better off as a link in a chain.

How do we combat this?

We start by acknowledging we’ve been doing it all wrong.

Connection + community were literally a matter of life or death for our species for 200 millennia.

If we ever became exiled or isolated from our tribe, death followed suit.

Ever since reading Sebastian Junger’s book, Tribe, I can’t get out of my head the self-determination theory - you might’ve heard me mention it before.

It’s not his theory, but he references it in his book.

The theory states we need 3 things to feel content.

(Quick note: Feeling content is more important than feeling happy.

It’s the prerequisite that allows happiness to exist.

Happiness is a feeling that comes and goes, it’s not a sustainable state.

Contentedness is the practice of “Wanting what I have instead of having what I want.”

It’s sustainable and a worthy target.)

Okay, here are the 3 things we need:

  1. Autonomy. The ability to feel in control of one's behavior/life
  2. Competence. A sense of mastery over one’s environment
  3. Relatedness. To feel closeness and belonging to a social group

“Feelings of relatedness are enhanced when individuals are respected & cared for by others and are part of an inclusive environment.”*

Personal connections allow us to love, be loved, and contribute.

They give us natural mood enhancers like mental & emotional stimulation.

“Alternatively, feelings of relatedness are undermined by competition with others, cliques, and criticism from others.”*

Social media, toxic work environments, gossip, etc.

We HAVE to start honoring our natural urge to connect, belong, and socialize.

Of the 100+ applications I’ve received to join my community or cohort coaching, there’s a CLEAR CUT #1 response:

👉 To meet like-minded people on a similar journey.


It’s IN our genes.

We’re literally ASKING FOR IT.

I’ve realized each day that the reason I’ve set out to create this community of 1,000 men is that selfishly it’s what I need most.

Now that I’ve found a connection with myself, I have a STRONG urge to build a connection with others.

I hear old me saying:

“You don’t need anyone, leaning on others is a sign of weakness, you can do this on your own.”

I empathize with that guy.

Now I see those thoughts as an attempt to shield himself from more pain.

But they don’t represent what he really needs & wants.

There hasn’t been anything more impactful than sitting across from another human, telling them what I’m struggling with or working towards, and hearing them genuinely say “Dude, me too.”

It's time to cultivate more of that.

Something to try 👇

I heard about the 5-5-5 exercise last week and I’m going to put it into action:

Each week, reach out to 5 new people, check in with 5 friends, and ask 5 people in your network how you can support them.

Ask a neighbor to borrow an egg or some olive oil.

People want to help. People want to connect. People want to feel like they are part of the tribe.

Don’t forget that.

Tim 🖤

ps Is there a topic you’d like me to write about or questions you’d like answered? Click reply and let me know.

Whenever you’re ready, here’s how I can help:

  1. Check out the Inner Circle for community, coaching, and accountability.
  2. 1:1 Coaching
  3. Weekly Dose newsletter

*Reference: Lopez-Garrido, G (2021, Jan 04). Self-determination theory and motivation. Simply Psychology.

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