By Alex Ledsom, Senior Contributor
Jan. 30, 2023
It's hard to get proof on what makes people happy but there is a longitudinal survey that has been examining happiness since the 1930s and after decades of research, the results have been published in a new book, The Good Life.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development, led by professors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, has studied the same 700 people and their families over time to determine what makes people thrive. They asked thousands of qualitative questions as well as taking hundreds of quantitative health measurements from brain scans to blood work.
In the 1930s, participants were chosen from either Harvard's male students or a group of boys from a low-income suburb of Boston. Every five years, they gave medical information and every two years, they answered detailed questions. Their wives and children later joined the study, that has tracked this group through work, marriage, divorce and even death—25 participants left their brains to the study after they died.
Waldinger is the fourth director of the project over its lifetime. He says, “we learnt that people believe happiness is something they can achieve—if they buy that house or get a promotion or lose enough weight, then happiness will follow. We act as if it is a destination we will get to if we tick the right boxes, but the data very clearly shows that this is simply not true. And that’s a good thing, as contentment is no longer something out of reach, but eminently achievable for all of us.”
It turns out that money does not make people happy, nor does your station or rank. It is mostly relationships and the connections you forge that leads to the most contented people. Whether these are in the form of friendships, book clubs, romantic attachments, church groups, sports partners or co-workers, the people with the strongest social bonds and connections in their 50s, were in the best shape in their 80s.
As the authors summarize, “good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
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