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 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 maintain positive relationships with your friends and family.

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

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

“We are a social species, we are not meant to operate in isolation,” Ms Ladikos said. “Positive relationships promote happiness and protect us from depressive rabbit holes.”

Stella Ladikos (pictured) said the best way to be happy is to foster positive relationships

Harvard found that good friends protected people from mental and physical decline, and provided a better idea of ​​how long a person’s life will last than their social class, IQ or genes.

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

‘It doesn’t matter whether it’s your family, friends or colleagues: relationships have a huge impact on your life.

“You have to make an effort to get involved and connect with your loved ones. Whether it’s volunteering, exercising or something else, you need to be in supportive spaces regularly.

‘It is important to put yourself in the spotlight regularly to be happier.’

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

Harvard researchers looked at data from 268 men who attended Harvard College.

The study – one of the longest studies of adult life – first began following Harvard students during the Great Depression in 1938.

The men were given regular interviews and questionnaires during the 80-year study.

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

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

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

Finally, when the 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, which has a strong impact on our overall health.

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

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

“If someone in your life is toxic, constantly pushing your boundaries, and disrespecting you, it increases your stress levels.

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

Ms Ladikos said it is essential to know when to withdraw from people.

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

“When you have a friend you can’t trust, you no longer have anything in common, but you hold each other together because you’ve known each other for years — you have to rethink that relationship.”

Ms Ladikos said it is essential to know when to withdraw from people

Ms Ladikos said it is essential to know when to withdraw from people

Stella’s tips for cultivating and nurturing relationships

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

Meet up with someone regularly – even if it doesn’t work out every time, it can help to have a set, regular time

Check in with your friends regularly. Ask how they are doing and really listen. Make space for people and let them know you care about them

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

Assess how much of your time in your friendship is spent catching up on messages rather than in person. Can you go offline and catch up more in person?

Challenge yourself to meet new people

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

“When you’re so focused on being happy, you try to reduce or distract from negative thoughts and feelings.

‘For example, if you are anxious and avoid your emotions instead of facing them, this can fester and cause more problems.

“The relentless pursuit of happiness by trying to eliminate negativity rather than fostering a positive and supportive community can be exhausting.”