What Is the Most Important Ingredient for a Happy Life?

· January 26, 2016

What is the most important ingredient for a happy life? Science has given us a wide variety of answers to this question, especially in the past five decades. Some say wealth, others say religion, and others say family is the most important.

However, there is a factor that consistently repeats itself and generates great debate: the influence of our childhood on our development as an adult. In our first years of life, we acquire a way of seeing the world that cannot be easily changed or replaced. On the other hand, this way of seeing the world is certainly influenced by one essential factor… Can you guess what it is?

This factor is affective bonding, warmth and attention. In a word, love. 

This aspect and its effect on a happy life was studied very specifically in a recent study conducted by researchers at Harvard (Vaillant, 2012). The objective of the study was to compare the effects of financial wealth in childhood with those of warmth and affection in childhood. They followed the lives of 200 men (yes, only men) over the course of 70 years, and they reached some very interesting conclusions.

They determined that financial wealth in childhood has little to do with success, satisfaction, and the ability to adjust in adulthood. Parental affection and attention throughout childhood is the most positive and powerful indicator. 

Some people will ask, “What problem leads to a lack of love in some cases? Don’t all parents inherently and naturally love their children?”


Beyond feeling loved, a child has to feel known by his or her parents. Children have to feel like their parents know them and love them as they are, love their strengths and weaknesses, the characteristics of their personality, what they like and dislike, etc…Children should feel like their parents truly see them and know them well.

This is a love that can only be felt truthfully and genuinely. It helps promote healthy self-esteem, which consists of a strong sense of identity and resilient self-esteem.

A frequently asked question is: “When you were growing up, did you know your parents loved you? Or do you just think that your parents loved you?” It is a crucial distinction to make due to the fact that a person can know that someone loves them without really feeling it.  

For example, if in addition to making sure that your basic needs are covered – clothing, food, shelter, and education – your parents talked to you, cared about you, asked you how you were feeling or what you cared about, then your parents truly knew you and loved you.

If your childhood was like that, then you are likely to have a good base for a successful life. You probably know yourself well, and you have and know your personal preferences, your weaknesses, and your strengths.

If, on the other hand, your childhood was not like that as described above, then it is possible that you did not receive many positive things from your childhood. We often look back and do not know very well how to connect our past to our present, and to what we hope for our future.

Carrying out the task of introspection can help us if we do it well and thoughtfully, not only thinking about that which slows us down, but also identifying those cloaked or hidden elements that hinder us in different ways that we previously hadn’t even considered.

Why is love so important in the first few years of infancy? There are many reasons. Maybe the first and most important is that it constitutes the birth of confidence, and not only confidence in oneself but also confidence and trust in others. In this sense we are talking about “blind trust” and the ability to rely and trust in someone else without feeling as though you have to watch your back.

Another secondary reason has to do with learning. A child who received healthy love also learned to give and express healthy love. Furthermore, a child who was able to develop strong and healthy bonds with others is able to see for themselves the effects of generosity, dedication, and unconditional support.

Overall, children who received love enjoyed their childhood. The amount of toys, or the type of school they went to does not matter. If they were loved, they were, for the most part, happy and often felt as if they had everything in the world, even if they still wanted the little knick-knack or piece of candy they didn’t get.

We can say that a simple childhood does not guarantee success in adulthood, just as a childhood with sadness and abuse does not guarantee failure. However, what is certain is that those who received love in their childhood and who felt loved and protected enter adulthood with an important advantage.

Having said this, as adults we are responsible for our children, but also of all the children of today who play, and laugh, and cry. As a society and humanity, we must always be aware of what we plant in the minds of children today, as it will most likely guide their lives tomorrow.