A 78-Year Harvard Study Reveals the Secret to Happiness

Here’s a hint: It’s not money or fame.

Mar 17, 2016

A Harvard Study, 78 years in the making, is revealing the truth about what makes us happy (Shutterstock)

Seventy-eight years and 724 participants later, a Harvard study has reached a conclusion about what makes us happy. The study, which began in 1938, followed 268 Harvard sophomores and 456 16-year-olds from one of Boston’s most disadvantaged areas in the 1930’s. For decades, researchers tracked a range of factors in the men’s lives through questionnaires, medical examinations, and interviews.

The result? Robert Waldinger, the clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the fourth director of the study explains in his TED Talk, “the clearest message that we get from this study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

That’s right, good relationships are the key to leading happier, healthier, and more fulfilling lives. The study then dug deeper to reveal three lessons on relationships.

1. Social connections are really good for us, while loneliness can have the opposite effect. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, physically healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected.

2. When it comes to relationships, it’s quality over quantity. It’s not just the number of friends you have or whether or not you’re in a committed relationship – it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.

3. Good relationships are good for the body and mind. It turns out that the memories of people in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person, stay sharper for longer. On the flip side, people in relationships where they feel they really can't count on the other one experience earlier memory decline.

While the study is a marvel in itself as the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done, it’s the implications the study has on everyday life that are truly ground-breaking. Waldinger concludes his TED Talk by asking the audience, “so what about you?” Knowing what you know now, what changes will you make in your life to improve your relationships? To lead a happier, healthier, more fulfilling life?

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Mirele writes about everything related to doing good, with a particular interest in volunteering and social entrepreneurship, informed by her background in eco tourism.

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