Happiness is a universal pursuit, but what truly determines our happiness? The Harvard Study of Adult Development, an extensive and groundbreaking research initiative spanning over 85 years, offers valuable insights into this elusive concept. Directed by Robert Waldinger, MD, the study has followed the lives of more than 2,000 participants across three generations, shedding light on the key factors associated with well-being and happiness.
In their book, "The Good Life: Lessons From the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness," Waldinger and Marc Schulz, PhD, share the study's remarkable findings. This blog post summarizes some of the study's most important concepts.
1. Health and Relationships: Throughout the 85-year study, the happiest participants consistently shared two fundamental aspects: taking care of their health and fostering loving relationships with others. While the importance of good health may seem obvious, the study's findings highlight the significance of robust and meaningful connections in predicting happiness and overall well-being. This correlation between relationships and happiness has been confirmed by other researchers as well, prompting further investigation into the physiological mechanisms underlying this link.
2. Professional Success is Insufficient: Contrary to popular belief, professional success alone does not guarantee happiness. The study revealed that the happiest individuals were not isolated or solely focused on their careers. Instead, they prioritised and nurtured their relationships. Furthermore, higher levels of education and cultural awareness, often associated with higher incomes, were found to promote healthier habits and better access to healthcare, contributing to overall well-being.
3. The Importance of Social Skills: In an era marked by increasing loneliness, developing strong social connections is crucial for navigating stressful situations. Having someone to confide in and share life's challenges with is essential. Waldinger recommends actively cultivating and expanding relationships, likening it to physical fitness that requires consistent practice. Regular commitments, such as phone calls or engaging in activities that foster camaraderie, such as sports, hobbies, or volunteer work, can help broaden one's social network.
4. Happiness is not Constant: While social media often portrays a rose-tinted view of life, the reality is that everyone faces difficulties and challenges. Social skills play a vital role in fostering resilience and navigating these obstacles. The study emphasizes that it is never too late to make positive changes in one's life through new relationships and experiences. Even those who feel stuck can find unexpected happiness by remaining open to new possibilities and embracing change.
The study's findings highlight the importance of maintaining good health and cultivating strong relationships throughout life. Professional success alone is insufficient, as happiness is intimately tied to meaningful connections with others. Social skills and ongoing effort to nurture relationships are essential in achieving happiness and overcoming life's challenges. Armed with these research-backed findings, we can now make informed choices to cultivate happiness in our own lives.
1. Waldinger, R., & Schulz, M. (2021). The Good Life: Lessons From the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. Bloomsbury Publishing.
2. Harvard Study of Adult Development. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://adultdevelopmentstudy.org/
3. Holt-Lunstad, J., Smith, T. B., & Layton, J. B. (2010). Social relationships and mortality risk: a meta-analytic review. PLoS medicine, 7(7), e1000316.
4. House, J. S., Landis, K. R., & Umberson, D. (1988). Social relationships and health. Science, 241(4865), 540-545.