Learnings from the Longest Study on Happiness

In his Ted talk, What Makes a Good Life?, Robert Waldinger shares the results of the longest study on happiness.  It was conducted by the Harvard Study of Adult Development and started in 1938. Waldinger is the fourth director of the study. For seventy-five years, the study looked at the lives of 724 young men, and followed them extensively until their deaths.

The study included two groups: a group of Sophomores at Harvard, and the second, a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhood, selected because they were part of the most troubled and disadvantaged families. Everyone was interviewed and given medical exams. Participants entered all walks of life, from the lowest to highest, one even becoming President. To capture the fullness of their lives, the study includes medical information, studies about their work, home life and health.

What did they learn? Waldinger says that the results aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder. He states: “The clearest message that we get from this seventy-five year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” Three big lessons about relationships come out of the study.

    • The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills.
    • The second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends that you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it is the quality of your close relationships that matters… The people who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50, were the healthiest at age 80.
    • Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. Being in a securely attached relationship in your eighties is protective… those people’s memories stay sharper longer.

The bottom-line is that “the people who faired the best, are people who leaned into relationships with family, friends, with community.”

Waldinger closes with a quote from Mark Twain who, on looking back on his life, wrote: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.” He concludes saying: “The good life is built with good relationships.”

Great leaders know that it is all about people in life. All we have that is truly precious is each other. May you continue to sustain, build, broaden and deepen your relationship with family and friends. May you live passionately, care deeply and love unconditionally and experience the good life to its fullest… and more. Life is so very good.

Have a beautiful day and a magnificent week!!!

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