What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger


What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life? If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time
and your energy? There was a recent survey of millennials asking them what their
most important life goals were, and over 80 percent said that a major life goal for them
was to get rich. And another 50 percent
of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous. (Laughter) And we’re constantly told
to lean in to work, to push harder and achieve more. We’re given the impression that these
are the things that we need to go after in order to have a good life. Pictures of entire lives, of the choices that people make
and how those choices work out for them, those pictures
are almost impossible to get. Most of what we know about human life we know from asking people
to remember the past, and as we know, hindsight
is anything but 20/20. We forget vast amounts
of what happens to us in life, and sometimes memory
is downright creative. But what if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people
from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age to see what really keeps people
happy and healthy? We did that. The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study
of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, we’ve tracked
the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work,
their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way
without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out. Studies like this are exceedingly rare. Almost all projects of this kind
fall apart within a decade because too many people
drop out of the study, or funding for the research dries up, or the researchers get distracted, or they die, and nobody moves the ball
further down the field. But through a combination of luck and the persistence
of several generations of researchers, this study has survived. About 60 of our original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men. And I’m the fourth director of the study. Since 1938, we’ve tracked the lives
of two groups of men. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores
at Harvard College. They all finished college
during World War II, and then most went off
to serve in the war. And the second group that we’ve followed was a group of boys
from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were
from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements,
many without hot and cold running water. When they entered the study, all of these teenagers were interviewed. They were given medical exams. We went to their homes
and we interviewed their parents. And then these teenagers
grew up into adults who entered all walks of life. They became factory workers and lawyers
and bricklayers and doctors, one President of the United States. Some developed alcoholism.
A few developed schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder from the bottom
all the way to the very top, and some made that journey
in the opposite direction. The founders of this study would never in their wildest dreams have imagined that I would be
standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that
the study still continues. Every two years, our patient
and dedicated research staff calls up our men
and asks them if we can send them yet one more set of questions
about their lives. Many of the inner city Boston men ask us, “Why do you keep wanting to study me?
My life just isn’t that interesting.” The Harvard men never ask that question. (Laughter) To get the clearest picture
of these lives, we don’t just send them questionnaires. We interview them in their living rooms. We get their medical records
from their doctors. We draw their blood, we scan their brains, we talk to their children. We videotape them talking with their wives
about their deepest concerns. And when, about a decade ago,
we finally asked the wives if they would join us
as members of the study, many of the women said,
“You know, it’s about time.” (Laughter) So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come
from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth
or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get
from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us
happier and healthier. Period. We’ve learned three big lessons
about relationships. The first is that social connections
are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people
who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier,
and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness
turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated
than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives
than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact
is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans
will report that they’re lonely. And we know that you
can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just
the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not
you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality
of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst
of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example,
without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health,
perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good,
warm relationships is protective. Once we had followed our men
all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow
into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. And when we gathered together
everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle age
cholesterol levels that predicted how they
were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were
in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied
in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships
seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows
of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days
when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were
in unhappy relationships, on the days when they
reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain. And the third big lesson that we learned
about relationships and our health is that good relationships
don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being
in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s
is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count
on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories
stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really
can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience
earlier memory decline. And those good relationships,
they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples
could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they
could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll
on their memories. So this message, that good, close relationships
are good for our health and well-being, this is wisdom that’s as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get
and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that’ll make our lives good
and keep them that way. Relationships are messy
and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending
to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. It never ends. The people in our 75-year study
who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked
to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials
in that recent survey, many of our men when they
were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth
and high achievement were what they needed to go after
to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years,
our study has shown that the people who fared the best were
the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community. So what about you? Let’s say you’re 25,
or you’re 40, or you’re 60. What might leaning in
to relationships even look like? Well, the possibilities
are practically endless. It might be something as simple
as replacing screen time with people time or livening up a stale relationship
by doing something new together, long walks or date nights, or reaching out to that family member
who you haven’t spoken to in years, because those all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges. I’d like to close with a quote
from Mark Twain. More than a century ago, he was looking back on his life, and he wrote this: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies,
heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant,
so to speak, for that.” The good life is built
with good relationships. Thank you. (Applause)

100 comments

  1. Without money there is no life. Other things are also important but money is definitely more important because it makes life better and comfortable. Though i think after 60 spend more funny time with your grands children.

  2. The only people this study doesn’t apply to are narcissists.
    The more toxic the relationship they create, the better they thrive in it, while the victims health declines and is destroyed.
    Snakes are immune to their own poison, after all.

  3. I've always been contented, but never happy. Lower expectations is beneficial & living with gratitude. Faith in an Almighty God is a must. 🤲🇦🇺

  4. Happiness is truly obtained from having a healthy relationship with family, friends and society. Yet there are some people in the world who choose to be lonely and that's what makes them happy. Either way, death is inevitable for the happy and the lonely.

  5. If you can make other people happy, if you do the best that you can do and you accomplish what you set out to
    accomplish and you have at least one good honest friend. .and you gave you're best at all things you undertook and didn't use or abuse anyone nor a friend and you were true to you're word.
    …well that is a great start….right?!

  6. i actually don't want to be happy. There's a plethora of emotions besides happiness.
    i would rather just be me than happy. To me happiness is for normies.

    With the MELAS syndrome genetic mutation i can't be healthy. Normal health advice is actually harmful to me exercise intolerance leads to lactic acidosis.

    What's “good“?

  7. I find it so very unscientific not to have an equal sample of women. The results of any study will be skewed without the experience of the bigger half of the population.

  8. What about me? It seems to be that I'm going to die on my 60s. loneliness is a b****, but I'd rather be like that than having another so-called friend talkingshit behind my back or scamming me over something. who can have proper and prosperous relationship with so many shady people out there?

  9. You lost me at « 724 MEN »… Include women in your study, next time. They’re only about half the world population, after all… Thanks.

  10. I want to ask if we really need all these relationships? Is it impossible to have a good life alone ? I really enjoy myself when i dont have a relationship and having my time thinking and reading., is that bad for health? Isn’t it better to minimize our expectations from the people around us ?
    I liked this vedio but also many questions should be included in this worksheet

  11. There is another reason the importance of relationships are ignored and fame and money are emphasized. It is because patriarchal values are held higher than feminist values, in society at large, because we are a profit based world in which big corporations run international dynamics. Patriarchy emphasizes the top dogs and the kings of the mountain; centralized authority reigns. Feminism emphasizes the network and the values of cooperation. Every study shows that when women can get educations and have a voice in society, all of society benefits; crime goes down, children are better educated, public health improves, zero population growth ensues spontaneously (because a woman with an education prefers a couple of children and a good job to popping out babies every year till menopause) and the societal benefits go on and on and on.
    It is worthy of note that this study was done on men only, and that they did not even think to include their partners in interviews, till very late in the game.

  12. I learned that constantly thinking about the future or the past makes me anxious/or depress. Living in the present time is where I find my peace (cleaning, reading, or walking increase my happy mood).

  13. It’s a really wonderful research! It proves that we are a social creatures and have to leave in love and peace! Once I road Alfred Adler books, there I found a similar answer! People just love each other❤️

  14. I don't know how but by the end of this video it kinda struck me that how time flies and soon enough I'd be old too and die. i hope i meet someone with whom I'd laugh and share pain in my 80s

  15. Sad thing about this is that even though you’ve heard the 3 most important lesson in this video, you still want to be alone.. and not minding dying early.

  16. When we have a lot of money, at that time we get to know money is not important. And if someone want to have our money, we don't allow it eventhough we say money is not important.

  17. How can you be happy knowing others in the world are suffering? How can you be so narrow minded not caring for others? If you come to this world searching happiness you have chosen the wrong planet. Just grow up and enjoy the unhappiness!

  18. He's ignorantly assuming (or bullshitting us)that solitary people are lonely and miserable….WRONG!!!!!! Today men aren't going to encounter many women who won't have an INTENTIONAL nasty destructive effect on their life…. Toxic people (family members) SHOULD be gotten rid of as soon as possible, it's not going to get ANY better….

  19. Basically we all need to have a good life partner to be happier and healthier for as long as possible. And don’t hold grudges. Just let it go .

  20. Happiness is a complex combination of situations. But I think the basic ingredient is the good quality relationship.

    It is a fact though that there are people who should be clever in their relationships with their families. It is also a fact that there are people who are surrounded by not so nice people. It is as well a fact that there are people, who didn't learn how to make good relationships to others and to themselves.

    But I think the good thing is, humans have the ability to do actions. There are psychologists, communities and talks like this here that could help.

    There are still nice people out there. There are countries, who's culture focus on love, friendship and harmonious good relationships.

    If there's a will, there's a way.

    Thanks for this study. This is an inspiration for me.

    More power!

  21. the case is what ever lacks in life its more important.if its money that you lack then you are in misery.if its affection and love then you are in misery.but one thing i agree is that you can not walk alone in life.there should be some one

  22. "more isolated then they want to be " that's precise! I like it. Having good, long-lasting relationships have always been hard for me. Now I know the "what", I need the "How".

  23. I decided that I'm never going to have a boss. also that I'm going to exercise and eat right everyday. and I will avoid toxic people

  24. No compromise. Agree 100% percent….. Good relationships with neighbour and friends and being social is so important for our healthly life.

  25. The main idea of this video hasn’t surprised me. I
    have always been completely sure that having a fructuous relationship is truly
    beneficial to achieve our happiness.
    A couple has to share day in and day out many different
    issues, consequently, it takes a toll on our lives.
    Despite the fact that managing a relationship may
    become complicated, no matter how stubborn or grouchy we are, it can change for
    the better avoiding disturbing couple feuds and ending up in happiness. Isn’t that
    what we all want?
    It is commonly known that in order to obtain a more
    comfortable life, we try to climb the social ladder, but we can’t take for
    granted that reaching at the top is going to make us feel any better.To sum up, after twenty five years’ time living with
    the same person, the slings and arrows of getting old haven’t avoided us to be
    happy. Health is a different matter though.

  26. Richness for what? Popularity for what? Everything is finally meant for our happiness. Everything thing looses its meaning if it is not joyful. The greatest joy rises when we share the greatest sorrow of others.

  27. 75 years to confirm what prophet Mohammed pease upon him talk before 1400 years

    Narrated Anas bin Malik:
    I heard Allah's Apostle saying, "whoever desires an expansion in his sustenance and age, should keep good relations with his Kith and kin."

    http://qaalarasulallah.com/hadithView.php?ID=1995

  28. This video just will be something else for me forever, in my religion our prophet literally said that if you keep in touch with everyone , family, friends etc , it will extend your life, my parents always told me that thing everytime i'm lazy to visit our family lol , until i just hate that word and think that is just an unreasonable stupid belief, until i watch this video in youtube recommended , damn it just like thunderstruck for me when he said a person who keep with their family is live longer , it just beautiful guys , god's ways is beautiful.

  29. Happy are not the people who are rich have family and friends and everything in between on planet earth Happy and healthy are the people who live their lives under God's consciousnesses who can feel the God's presence and share it this life with the world with a purpose greater than just having material things…. doing good saying good thinking good and more importantly giving good in all forms

  30. I could listen to this guy all day, he's so calming and positive. <3 He reminds me of a priest without the god stuff hehe

  31. One always wants what one doesn’t have and one never realizes or appreciates what one already has until it is lost, anyone who has the ability to resist those emotions and see clear has found happiness but I doubt there are many of those people around these days! Oh well

  32. 75 men. Just men. Insufficient. Should have been 80 people, 40 men & 40 women. That would have been the most comprehensive. They would not study 75 women to determine results for men, why are studies like this always done this way? We know better. Considering this study of men showed that "good relationships" are the determining factor for overall health and happiness, why is the female gender persistently overlooked and forgotten?

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