Harvard Study Reveals the Ingredients to True Happiness

In a recent TED talk, Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger described some of the secrets to happiness, which were revealed in a recently released 75-year-long Harvard study.

Apparently, we should value love above all else. It’s the main thing in life that brings us happiness. Once you see what really made people happy over three-quarters of a century, you won’t need to assume what will make you happy, and you may change your ways.

Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the study from 1972 to 2004, wrote about this important study with humor. He said, “The 75 years and 20 million dollars expended on the Grant Study points … to a straightforward five-word conclusion: ‘Happiness is love. Full stop.’ “

The study followed two sets of white men: 268 Harvard sophomores were part of the “Grant Study” led by Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant and 456 12- to 16-year-old boys who grew up in inner-city Boston were part of the “Glueck Study” led by Harvard Law School professor Sheldon Glueck.

Researchers surveyed the men about their jobs, relationships and health over 75 years.

The greatest takeaway from the study was the revelation that relationships bring us most joy. Good relationships bring us the most happiness. But it’s more complicated than that.

1. Close Relationships

harvard study on happiness
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The men in both groups who had better relationships with family, friends and community were both happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. They also lived longer.

Lonely people had more health-related problems and reported feeling less happy. They also suffered sleep disorders and more mental health issues.

Men who had “warm” childhood relationships with their mother were less likely to develop dementia later in life, and were more likely to have professional success.

2. Quality (Not Quantity) of Relationships

harvard study on happiness
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Being in just any old miserable relationship will not make you happier. In fact, the study showed that people who were alone were happier than people in turbulent “high-conflict” relationships.

What’s more, the number of relationships mattered more to people in their 20s than it did to people in their 30s. Apparently, when people had a large number of friends it didn’t necessarily mean they were happier than a person with just a few true close friends.

3. Stable, Supportive Marriages

harvard study on happiness
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Staying connected with people not only promotes better health, but it slows down mental decline.

Married people who’d never been divorced, separated or having “serious problems” until age 50 performed better on memory tests later in life than those who weren’t, the Harvard study found.

In general, marriage has been linked to a lowered risk of dementia.

Most surprisingly, the study revealed that while most of us consider acquiring wealth and working hard as the key components of happiness, it turns out that things are far simpler than we assume.

Relationships, with friends, family and the community surpassed all other factors in bringing happiness to the study participants throughout the 75 years they were surveyed. As for careers, having a meaningful connection to the type of work you’re doing is more important than achieving traditional success (i.e. wealth).

And this is all truly enlightening stuff to take with us into the rest of 2019!