What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

By: Caitlyn Brown

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As human beings, we are often striving to reach our potential and the best version of ourselves. This can be reflected in a variety of settings: career, family, relationships, hobbies, sports, positions etc. Unfortunately, it is all too easy and common to slack in other areas of our lives as we pursue the next big thing in our lives or focus on our future only to realize, often too late, that our experiences throughout life may not have quite added up to our idea of a good life. What kind of wisdom will we pass on to our children about what it means to live a good life?

This TedTalk by Robert Waldinger describes a study that began in 1938 and followed the lives of 724 men from their adolescence to their death. The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the longest studies of adult life which follows two groups of men: men who attended Harvard and boys in the lower socioeconomic group/disadvantaged families in Boston. Each participant was medically examined, interviewed in their homes and had their families also interviewed. Every two years, the participants would answer another set of questions about their lives, complete a face-to-face interview, and a multitude of other data submissions. The main conclusion of this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

This study found that the impact of relationships on our happiness and health is broken down into three main lessons:

 

  1. Social connections are really good for us: The more social connections one has, the happier, healthier, and longer that individual will live. These connections can be with family, friends, or community.

 

  1. The quality of relationships is greater than the quantity: The number of social connections matters much less than the quality of those connections. Having poor or conflict-ridden relationships significantly impacts physical health and mental well-being.

 

  1. Quality relationships protect our bodies and our brains: This study found that individuals who were in a securely attached relationship in their 80s maintained sharper memories longer than those who were not in a relationship. Our relationships, protect our brain and maintain our brain’s cognitive functioning.

 

If you would like to know how to apply these lessons to your life, regardless of age, check out this TedTalk, or you can even read about the study here. Robert Waldinger is now the director of this study, which is in its second generation.

Reference: 

Waldinger, R. (2015, November). Robert Waldinger: What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness [Video file]. Retrieved from https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness

This post was written by  Caitlyn Brown of the  MFLN Family Development Team. The Family Development team aims to support the development of professionals working with military families.  Find out more about the Military Families Learning Network Family Development team on our websiteFacebook, and Twitter.

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