The key to finding happiness

Marion Benedek, KC Rice, Helen Chardack and Susan Shapiro have been taking pottery classes together at the 92nd Street Y for nearly a lifetime. This tight-knit group of New York potters puts a unique spin on something we all desperately want: happiness.

They call their pottery gatherings their happy place. Shapiro, who had been coming here since 1971, said, “It really has been a place of meditation and friendship.”

“I feel very free when I come here, and I create,” said Benedek, who started around 1981. “No one demands you.”

Rice, who retired in 2000, began the following year. “I’m the oldest here, and I’m the most new to clay,” she said.

But what binds them is much more than clay; it is something intangible. “You get a sense of belonging,” Chardack said. “And in belonging there is security, there is intimacy, there are shared experiences.”

Marion Benedek, KC Rice and Susan Shapiro have teamed up over ceramics classes at New York’s 92nd Street Y.

CBS News

Spencer asked Boston-area psychiatrist Robert Waldinger about the pottery class participants’ experience: “Is it happiness?”

“It can be happy in the moment to moment sense,” he replied. “It can also be meaningful if they feel connected to these other people.”

Waldinger said there is a formula for happiness—and he’s happy to share it: “Happiness falls into two main categories: One is the experience of being happy right now—am I happy talking to you? And yes, I am !And in another hour or so, something annoying might happen and I won’t be happy.

“Then there’s a more lasting form of happiness, basically the feeling that life is meaningful, that life is worthwhile.”

Waldinger, whose happiness TED Talk has been viewed some 44 million times, is leading the longest-ever study on happiness. Participants in Harvard’s Study of Adult Development have been answering questionnaires since 1938. Today, the project includes their children. The questions are about everything from sleep to sex to coffee consumption, and far beyond that.

The participants include some famous names, whose identities have become public, such as President John F. Kennedy, and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, but whose answers remain secret. “We ask people to tell us very personal things about their lives. And in exchange, we promise them privacy and confidentiality,” Waldinger said.


Simon and Schuster

What is not secret is the study’s key findings, mapped out in his new book, “The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness” (published by Simon & Schuster, part of CBS’ parent company, Paramount Global). Happiness doesn’t (you guessed it) come from money, looks or fame; true happiness comes from meaningful human relationships.

Spencer asked, “How do you measure a relationship?”

“We think all relationships have some benefit,” Waldinger said, “but the relationship at three in the morning, the person you can call if you were really hurt or in trouble, we think everybody needs one of those, at least one .

“We asked our original participants, ‘Who can you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or scared?’ Some people could list several people; some people couldn’t list any, and some of the people who couldn’t list anyone were married!”

This is far from just an American problem. Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup, said their latest polls show that loneliness is a major reason why global unhappiness is at an unprecedented high. “We’re experiencing more stress, more sadness, more anger, more physical pain and more worry than we’ve had in the history of Gallup’s tracking,” he said. “Over 300 million adults in the world today live in total loneliness.”


Gallup Press

In a recent book, “Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It” (Gallup Press), Clifton argues for action, writing that leaders should make citizens’ happiness a top policy priority, right up there with, for example , economical growth.

Across the globe, he points to some bright spots: “If the way you define ‘happy’ is how much fun people are having, then the happiest people in the world live in Latin America. And I think they’ve also shown us the power of social connections and good friendships.”

Waldinger says it is possible to teach someone how to make more friends. In fact, Danielle Bayard Jackson does it for a living—she’s a professional friendship coach.

Spencer asked her, “If we don’t have a supply of really good friends after college or around college age, are we pretty much doomed?”

“Oh, not at all,” Jackson replied. “As long as you can make it a priority to have a daily meaningful social interaction, you can make a friend at any time.”

She said relationships can take a lot of work—and even more time: “There’s research that shows it takes about 50 hours to get to know each other, about 90 hours to make a good friend, and 200 hours to make a best friend. So, we have to clock these hours.”

And as the four friends who do pottery together will happily tell you, it’s well worth it. As Helen Chardack put it, not having their happy place “would be a big hole in my life.”

For more info:

  • “The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness” by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz (Simon & Schuster), in hardcover, e-book and audio formats, available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
  • Robert Waldinger, MD, Massachusetts General Hospital, Boston
  • Harvard Study of Adult Development
  • “Blind Spot: The Global Rise of Unhappiness and How Leaders Missed It” by Jon Clifton (Gallup Press), in hardcover and e-book formats, available through Amazon, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound
  • Jon Clifton, CEO of Gallup
  • Relationship Coach Danielle Bayard Jackson
  • The 92nd Street Y, New York City

Story produced by Amiel Weisfogel. Editor: Mike Levine.

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