Lessons from the longest study on happiness

Screen Shot 2016-01-03 at 7.32.48 amWhat makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

Robert Waldinger, TEDx Beacon Street, filmed November 2015

Researchers at Harvard, after studying participants for 75 years, have discovered conclusively that it is not money, or fame or even achievement that create a sense of happiness or physical health. This multi-generational research team found instead that (i) the Quality of our close relationships with one another and (ii) our degree of social connectivity were the best determinants of our overall happiness, physical health, mental function and longevity. This seems also to align with the research into isolation being a risk factor for dementia.

Personally, I feel it is a tad biased, as the study until late into it, was only on men; it definitely would be interesting to have seen the results for the same study on women.

After watching this talk, which you can view below, but the clearest message or lessons learned from the 75-year-old, ongoing study about happiness is this:

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

The three big lessons from this 75 year study:

  1. Social connections are really good for us – to family, friends and community are healthier, happier and live longer. Loneliness kills; the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic
  2. It is the quality of your close relationships that matter, and living in good warm relationships is protective for health and happiness; the people the most satisfied were the healthiest at age 80; good relationships are a buffer for managing pain, improved mood.
  3. Good relationships where they really feel they really can count on someone, not only protect our bodies, but also our brains; their memories stay sharper for longer
    • Those in poor relationships, who in particular feel they cannot count on the other person, are likely to experience memory loss earlier

LONELINESS: Longevity dropped dramatically where people felt lonely, even for short periods of their life. Furthermore, people can still feel lonely in a crowd or even a marriage. Conflict in a group or a marriage is often fine, but if you feel lonely a lot of the time, then change crowds or consider divorce as an alternative.

HOLDING A GRUDGE: If you are not connecting with family and friends in a loving way, make extra room in your heart for the difficult ones and let go of ALL past grudges. It may well save you from an unhappy life, ill health and an early grave.

THE HAPPIEST PEOPLE in this study were those who had replaced work mates with new mates – those who lived the happiest lives were those who worked on maintaining relationships, on leaning into them, and relacing lost relationships with new ones, no matter how they were lost. And the all too common family feuds take a huge toll on health.

He ended with a Mark Twain quote:

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.”

“What keeps us happy and healthy as we go through life? If you think it’s fame and money, you’re not alone – but, according to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, you’re mistaken. As the director of a 75-year-old study on adult development, Waldinger has unprecedented access to data on true happiness and satisfaction. In this talk, he shares three important lessons learned from the study as well as some practical, old-as-the-hills wisdom on how to build a fulfilling, long life.”

10 thoughts on “Lessons from the longest study on happiness

  1. Reblogged this on Wolsten and commented:
    I am not one for promoting homilies about how to live your life better but Kate highlights something that we all know yet time and time again fail to follow. I don’t know why this and it doesn’t matter that few people will read this on my blog. Its a personal reminder if nothing else with the act of writing it down a personal challenge for the New Year. Thank you Kate.


  2. Amazing that it takes 75 years of work at Harvard to tell us what we already know. If I spend the same amount of time on a similar initiative here Maureen will be 152 before I implement my findings!


  3. Hmmmm. Well, I don’t think the results are valid for me as the study sample is 724 men. It’s well known that men do less well out of relationship than in relationship and the opposite is not necessarily true for women.

    I also don’t believe it’s better to forgive grudges in families. I believe it’s better to sever toxic family relationships and any other toxic relationships for that matter. I think it’s counterproductive to try to have core deal relationships with people who are downright crazy, don’t share my values, deliberately tried to screw me, abuse me, etceteras.

    I am the creator of my own happiness. And what makes 724 men happy does not necessarily make one woman happy 🙂

    I’m sticking to my plan ❤


    • Yes, I agree in many ways with you dear Susan, and I too am sticking to my plan! Can’t believe it took them so long wo work it out though, if they had studied women, the results would have been done much more quickly! hehehe


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