[This post was originally published on The Happy Manifesto website in April 2016]
Eighteen months ago I left Microsoft, where I had spent 17 years. It was a huge decision for me and one I struggled with. I was really scared of the change. But do you want to guess what I was most afraid of? It wasn’t loss of income, it wasn’t status, it wasn’t instability.
I was afraid I’d be unhappy.
Throughout my years at Microsoft, I felt a really close affiliation with the company. I was proud to work there and it was a significant part of my life. Life and work were very blurred at Microsoft – and I liked that! My workday bled into my evening and my personal life mixed with my work. I was close friends with my co-workers. I even met my husband there – and he still works there today. Microsoft was a large part of my identity and I was afraid that if I left, it would impact my relationships and overall happiness.
Fast forward a year and a half and I know now my fears were unfounded. I love my business, my clients, the diversity of my work. I’m excited about the company I am building. I still feel a strong affiliation with Microsoft and am proud of the successful years I spent there. And – perhaps most importantly for my personal happiness – I still have really strong relationships. My new business has been great for my life fulfillment: Not only do I stay in contact with dozens of past colleagues from Microsoft but I’m building relationships and creating new connections – in different sectors, industries and places.
Joy is Connection
Connection is essential to happiness. In fact, some researchers argue it’s the corner stone. In 2013, Harvard released the results of the Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year longitudinal study that explored the secrets of a happy and fulfilling life. The study, which was far reaching, had 5 key findings, 2 of which relate directly to relationships:
• First, it found that love is an essential foundation for a happy life. George Vaillant, the psychiatrist responsible for the Grant Study for 42 years, said the most important finding was that relationships are the only thing that really matter for a fulfilling life: “Happiness is only the cart; love is the horse.”
• Second, it found that the more areas in your life you can create connections, the better. Relationships, including those we have at work, are far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction.
Connection definitely matters, and it’s no wonder I was scared of losing it. In addition to our happiness, it affects our broader business success. Gallup research has shown that close work friendships lead to higher employee satisfaction, with a claim that people with a best friend at work are seven times more likely to be motivated and productive. Other studies show that more work connections lead to better health and greater sense of fulfillment.
According to neuroscientist Matthew Lieberman, our need to connect with other people is more fundamental and basic than food and shelter. In his book Social: Why our Brains are Wired to Connect, Lieberman shares his finding that even connecting in the most basic ways makes you happier—especially when you know other people need your help. His research shows that having a friend that you see daily at work brings the equivalent happiness to $100,000 increase in salary.
Now that’s a lot of happiness.