Thoughts from the Therapy Chair with Joe Martino: How to Find Happiness

Each month, Lowell-based licensed counselor Joe Martino shares tips and advice regarding how to overcome obstacles and live better.


We’re one month into 2023, and it’s been an exciting year. It seems like we’ve heard a lot of bad news related to things like shootings in GR, the rising costs of necessities, etc.

Amid onslaughts like that, we can often be tempted to focus on avoiding the things that bring us distress or sickness. We can often be tempted to fixate on the things we need to avoid. This makes sense at many levels, yet it is woefully inadequate for us to truly live an entire life. To live a whole life, we must look at the things that help us come alive.

What are the things that help us to live our lives the most fully? What can we do today that will help us increase our chances of a more full and active life in our later years? Do we have any information on what we can do to help our future selves?

These are questions that many of us ponder at different times in our lives. I have a milestone birthday coming up quickly, so I have been considering them and variations for a while now.

Recently, I came across an article in the Wall Street Journal that discussed these issues. The article cites a book, which I have since read. The book, entitled The Good Life, is written by two Harvard professors, the fourth directors of the world’s most extensive longitudinal study on how humans age in a healthy way. It’s full of exciting and helpful information. There is one piece of information that I found to be most interesting.

The best predictor of health and happiness at age 80 is satisfaction in relationships at age 50. The more satisfied people were with their relationships leading up to age 50, the more likely they were to be healthy and happy at age 80.

These findings make sense because we are relational beings designed to be connected to others. According to the book’s authors, loneliness is more dangerous for older people (the actual demarcation point for what defines older is not given in the book) than smoking or chronic diseases.

This is both encouraging and somewhat daunting. Our society is more obsessed with appearing to have deep relationships than it is with having them.

Relationships are one of the four leading causes of anxiety. So how do we build healthy relationships?

Here are some ideas that I have found helpful.

1. Adjust our expectations.

Most people lament only having 1 or 2 close friends in their lives. The problem with this lament is that we cannot manage more than 1-6 intimate relationships at any given time. Most people claiming to have many best friends typically have a very broad definition of what a best friend is or is not. This can be fine for them, and it can be a sign of some emotional trauma that may need to be processed.

We can also adjust our expectations about the length of relationships. Some are lifelong, and others have a specific time frame for them for various reasons. We achieve energy from some people because there is a limit to the time we spend with them. As each person grows, one or both may take a different relational path.

2. Cultivate over time.

Relationships take time to grow. They have to be cultivated. This is a great term because it alludes to the work relationships require. I’m amazed at people who think relationships shouldn’t need work. What is worth having in life that doesn’t require work? I can think of nothing. There will be hurts and required apologies. That’s more than ok. That’s great! It means the relationship is growing.

3. Live by the 70% rule.

Too often, we think we can only be friends with the people we agree with completely. I think the best rule is the seventy percent rule. We should agree on about 70% of things to be intimate. Some people can be intimate with others at an even lower rate because disagreement doesn’t bother them as much. There is a beauty that can be found in sharing time with people we disagree with; it helps us grow in our own beliefs.

4. Keep showing up

Relationships are built by continuing to show up. When we try new things because someone wants to try it, we show that we care by showing up and trying. When we consistently show up in the person’s life, we give the relationship time to grow roots, even when we don’t do anything or say anything. Logging time with people allows our mirror neurons to create deep neural pathways that lead to lifelong satisfaction.

What about you? How have you found ways to develop relationships? Let me know in the comments, or send me an email.

Joe Martino is a counselor with Joe Martino Counseling Network.  He has locations in Lowell, Grand Rapids, Greenville, and Grandville.  For more information about Joe and his business, check their website or Facebook page.  He and the rest of the counselors and staff are eager to help those in need.

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