Growth 4 min read

What Makes A Good Life?

Ever wonder what is the secret to having a good life?

Ever wonder what the secret is to leading a good life? There seems to be one study that has finally solved the burning question.  

Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger is a director of a long running study on adult development conducted by Harvard University. Since 1938, the 75 year old study has observed 724 young men. They were divided into two groups: sophomore college students who went off to graduate and serve in World War II, and young male teenagers who lived in some of the poorest neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts in the 1930's. When they entered the study, they were interviewed, given medical exams, and their families were interviewed as well.  

Their lives remained under observation for several decades. The observations included surveys, interviews, and records of behavior during specific life events. The result of these observations were definitely interesting –– in some cases, they were extraordinary. Some of them have gone on to climb the social ladder, one became the president of the United States, doctors, lawyers but some developed alcoholism, and a few developed schizophrenia.

"The founders of this study would never in their wildest dreams imagined that I would be standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that the study still continues," Waldinger said. 

In the TedTalk "What Makes A Good Life? Lessons From The Longest Study On Happiness," Waldinger laments over a recent survey on millennials. The survey showed that over 80% say their life goal was to become wealthy while the 50% of the group said their aim is to become famous. He realized that today’s youth was told to “lean in” may have lead them into believing that acquiring a higher status equates to happiness. This wasn't the case. Though riches and fame are good to have, none of these material things were the key to a good life. 

What they discovered is that key to a good life is having healthy relationships.

"It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health," Waldinger said. 

Based on the conclusions of Harvard’s historical study, Waldinger explains three lessons everyone can learn about healthy relationships:

1. Loneliness Is A Killer 

1 in 5 Americans have reporter to feeling lonely. Waldinger went on to emphasize the importance of social connections, and how these interactions will keep you happier and healthier. People who connect with their family, friends, and community will lead more fulfilling lives compared to those who live in isolation. 

2. Quality Over Quantity 

It's not about how many friends someone has, but it's more so about the quality of those friendships that will determine your happiness. It's the quality that matters. Waldinger took a look at their 80 year old and spoke to them about how they felt during their 50s. Despite facing health health related issues, it was their "protective relationships" during their middle age that helped improve their moods by age 80. Those who didn't have those healthy relationships, like a marriage, at that age felt more physical pain in their later years. 

3. Good Relationships Protect Your Body And Your Brain

Just as our healthy relationships can improve our moods and health at an old age, they can also help in improving our brain function. Waldinger discovered that participants who were in healthy relationships through the span of their lifetime had sharper memories compared to those who didn't. People who have led unhealthy relationships have also seen a decline in memory function. The significance of good relationships is being able to depend on another person, and essentially being happier.

"Good relationships keep us happier and healthier," Waldinger says. 

The greatest take away we can get from this study is that as a society, we must stop trying to find a “quick fix." We must center our goals in life on cultivating and maintaining happy and healthy relationships. We must work on spending time with other who will bring light into our lives, but we must also act as a light for others as well. Putting our energy into happier and healthier relationships with others is key, and quality trumps over quantity. Although healthy relationships take a lot of time and hard work, it's important to invest our time on these relationships to lead happier, longer lives. 

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