Viewpoint: Want Happiness? Seek and Share Love

Contributed By the Church News

  • 16 October 2016

Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant concluded from his studies that there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

Article Highlights

  • The Harvard Grant Study is the longest-running study of human development.
  • Experts concluded that finding love and holding onto it is the key to happiness.
  • General Authorities have confirmed this truth over the years.

“Love is expressed in many recognizable ways: a smile, a wave, a kind comment, a compliment.” —President Thomas S. Monson

Beginning in 1938, researchers at Harvard University and 268 undergraduate men began a project to determine what makes us happy. Conducted for more than 75 years, the Harvard Grant Study—the longest-running, most comprehensive study of human development—studied intelligence levels, alcohol intake, relationships, and income.

In 2012, the study’s findings were published in a book by Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 to 2004.

He concludes, after following the lives of the men, there are two pillars of happiness. “One is love,” he wrote. “The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

In fact, Dr. Vaillant summarizes his findings in just five words: “Happiness is love. Full stop.”

More than a decade before Dr. Vaillant published his book, President James E. Faust shared the same conclusion in his October 2000 general conference address: “Love is the direct route to the happiness that would enrich and bless our lives and the lives of others,” said President Faust, then Second Counselor in the First Presidency (“Our Search for Happiness,” Oct. 2000 general conference).

The scriptures teach that finding love and happiness is important because “men are, that they might have joy” (2 Nephi 2:25).

During his April 2014 conference address, President Thomas S. Monson said love is the essence of the gospel.

“Love is expressed in many recognizable ways: a smile, a wave, a kind comment, a compliment,” said President Monson. “Other expressions may be more subtle, such as showing interest in another’s activities, teaching a principle with kindness and patience, visiting one who is ill or homebound. These words and actions and many others can communicate love” (“Love—the Essence of the Gospel,” Apr. 2014 general conference).

Every day Latter-day Saints are given opportunities to show love and kindness to those around them, he said.

During His mortal ministry the Savior asked us to “love one another; as I have loved you” (John 13:34).

In an August 1982 First Presidency Message, President Gordon B. Hinckley said: “Generally speaking, the most miserable people I know are those who are obsessed with themselves; the happiest people I know are those who lose themselves in the service of others. …

“If we want joy in our hearts, if we want the Spirit of the Lord in our lives, let us forget ourselves and reach out. Let us put in the background our own personal, selfish interests and reach out in service to others.”

This happens as we choose to serve and love every day.

“Great things are wrought through simple and small things,” said Elder M. Russell Ballard of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles in his 2011 general conference address. “Like the small flecks of gold that accumulate over time into a large treasure, our small and simple acts of kindness and service will accumulate into a life filled with love for Heavenly Father, devotion to the work of the Lord Jesus Christ, and a sense of peace and joy each time we reach out to one another” (“Finding Joy through Loving Service,” Apr. 2011 general conference).

During his October 2008 general conference address, President Monson asked Church members to “relish life as we live it, find joy in the journey, and share our love with friends and family.”

“Despite the changes which come into our lives and with gratitude in our hearts, may we fill our days—as much as we can—with those things which matter most,” he said. “May we cherish those we hold dear and express our love to them in word and in deed” (“Finding Joy in the Journey,” Oct. 2008 general conference).

Another study released by Harvard Medical School in 2008 found that “happiness is also a collective phenomenon that spreads through social networks like an emotional contagion.”

In the study “that looked at the happiness of nearly 5,000 individuals over a period of 20 years, researchers found that when an individual becomes happy, the network effect can be measured up to three degrees. One person’s happiness triggers a chain reaction that benefits not only their friends, but their friends’ friends, and their friends’ friends’ friends. The effect lasts for up to one year,” according to a press release published December 4, 2008. “Happiness is a collective—not just individual—phenomenon.”

“The flip side, interestingly, is not the case: Sadness does not spread through social networks as robustly as happiness. Happiness appears to love company more so than misery.”

So, research confirms the best way to be happy is to love others and then watch that love spread.

The Savior taught this when a Pharisee asked: “Master, which is the great commandment in the law?

“Jesus said unto him, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind.

“This is the first and great commandment.

“And the second is like unto it, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself” (Matthew 22:36–39).

Just like researchers learned from the 268 men in the Harvard Grant Study, we can all find happiness by seeking and sharing love.

Love is the motivating principle by which the Lord “leads us along the way towards becoming like Him, our perfect example,” said President Henry B. Eyring, First Counselor in the First Presidency, during his October 2009 general conference address. “Our way of life, hour by hour, must be filled with the love of God and love for others” (“Our Perfect Example,” Oct. 2009 general conference).

President Eyring said joy comes from putting the welfare of others above our own. “That is what love is,” he said.