I’m a mental health expert and this is the number one secret to happiness – and what you need to do to achieve it

A therapist and mental health expert has shared the secret to true happiness – and her revelation is backed up by science.

Stella Ladikos, from Sydney, told FEMAIL that one of the best ways to be happy and live a long, healthy life is to foster positive relationships with your friends and family.

The Australian expert’s advice comes after Harvard’s 85-year long scientific study on happiness found that close relationships and social connections are crucial for well-being as people age.

People who have strong relationships show lower rates of diabetes, arthritis, cognitive decline, and other chronic conditions.

‘We’re a social species, we’re not meant to operate in isolation,’ Ms Ladikos said. ‘Positive relationships foster happiness and protect us from going down depressive rabbit holes.’

Stella Ladikos [pictured] said the best way to be happy is to foster positive relationships

Harvard found good friends protected people from mental and physical decline, and gave a better idea of how long someone’s life will be than their social class, IQ, or genes. 

Ms Ladikos echoed that having a supportive community makes a person less likely to relapse into episodes of depression or anxiety.

‘It doesn’t matter if it’s your family, friends, or colleagues – relationships have a massive impact on your life.

‘You need to make an effort to get involved and connect with your loved ones. Be it by volunteering, playing sport, or something else – you need to be in supportive spaces regularly.

‘It’s important to put yourself out there frequently in order to be happier.’

What is Harvard’s 85-year study on happiness about?  

Harvard researchers looked at data 268 men who went to Harvard College.

The study – which is one of the longest studies on adult life – first started tracking Harvard students during the Great Depression in 1938.  

The men were given regular interviews and questionnaires through the course of the 80 year study.

To gauge the participants’ early home environment, the researchers looked at reports about their home life, interviews with the parents, and developmental histories recorded by a social worker.

When the participants were 45 to 50 years old, they completed interviews in which they discussed the challenges they encountered in various aspects of their lives, including their relationships, their physical health, and their work.

Using the original interview notes, the researchers then rated the participants’ ability to manage emotions in response to these challenges.

Finally, when participants were in their late 70s or early 80s, they completed an interview that focused on their relationship with their current partner.

Eight decades later, researchers have revealed how happy we are in our relationships has a strong influence on our overall health.

Close relationships are far more important than money and fame and will keep people happy into their old age, researchers revealed.

On the other side, Ms Ladikos revealed that some relationships can also actively hurt you.

‘If someone in your life is toxic, constantly pushes your boundaries, and doesn’t respect you – it increases your stress levels.

‘That impacts your sleep, appetite, performance at work, and even your immune system.’

Ms Ladikos shared that it was essential to know when you should pull away from people.

‘You shouldn’t have relationships with people where your needs aren’t being met because it doesn’t add value to your life.

‘If you have a friend you can’t trust, you have nothing in common anymore, but you’re holding on because you’ve known each other for years – you need to reconsider that relationship.’

Ms Ladikos shared that it was essential to know when you should pull away from people

Ms Ladikos shared that it was essential to know when you should pull away from people

Stella’s tips for cultivating and nurturing relationships

Join community groups or take up a hobby with a social group

Lock in a regular catch up with someone – even if you don’t make it every single time, having a routine, regular time in place can help

Check in with your friends often. Ask how they are and really listen – make space for people and let them know you care

Remember that friendship is a two-way street and that one person shouldn’t do all the heavy lifting

Assess how much of your time in your friendship is spent catching up via messaging vs in-person. Can you get offline and catch up in person more?

Challenge yourself to meet new people

The therapist also said that the pursuit of happiness can sometimes cause more suffering.

‘If you’re so focused on being happy, you try to diminish or deflect yourself from negative thoughts and feelings.

‘For example, if you’re anxious and you’re avoiding your emotions instead of facing it head on, it can fester and cause more problems. 

‘The relentless pursuit of happiness by trying to eliminate negativity instead of fostering a positive and supportive community can be exhausting.’

Read more at DailyMail.co.uk