Everyone wants to be happy. There is no argument about that. The question is, what will make you happy? If happiness is your ultimate life goal, where will you spend most of your time and energy? Will you focus on gaining financial abundance, good health, strong relationship, successful career or prestige and power? What do you need to achieve to have a good life? A Harvard Study that started in the late 1930s has been examining this question for years now. It is the longest study that has ever been done. So, what makes a good life?
The Harvard Study of Adult Development otherwise known as the Grant Study, had followed 724 men, year after year, from the time they were teenagers, to their marriage and career life all the way to their old age. While the original 268 men were from Harvard University, the remaining 456 men were from Boston’s poorest neighborhood. For years, the men agreed to have regular extensive interviews, together with a series of physical and physiological examinations to determine their physical, mental and emotional well being.
Some of these men became workers and bricklayers. Others became alcoholic and developed schizophrenia. At the same time, a great number of them achieved great success and became doctors and lawyers. One of them even became a US President.
So, what makes a good life? If you think that money, fame and success are the answers, think again. After almost 75 years of research, here are the three big lessons they have learned according to Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the study:
1. Social Connections are Important to our Well Being
People who have deep connections with their family, friends and community lived happier, healthier and longer lives. Social connections improved one’s physical, mental and emotional well being. People who live in isolation and are lonely often live shorter lives.
2. Quality of your Relationship Matters
When it comes to relationships, it is quality over quantity. It is not a matter of how many friends you have or if you are married or not, but rather it is all about whether you have a healthy relationship with the people around you. The quality of your relationship will determine your quality of life. In the study, the people who are happy and satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.
3. Happy Relationships Protect Both the Body and the Brain
Happy relationships not just protect our physical body but also our mental and brain health. The people who are secure and happy in their relationships remained sharp while the others who don’t have meaningful relationships suffered from memory decline.
Check out this Ted talk by Robert Waldinger for more insights:
Do you want to have a good life? Then improve on your social wellness. Invest in the quality of your relationships with the people who are dear to you. Make this your first step towards a better life.
First published May 7, 2020.