Science Has Discovered The One Thing Which Makes Everyone Happy

Lover's Bridge, Paris

A research project which spanned 75 years has recently released its results and provided the world with the secret to happiness. The Harvard Study of Adult Development followed two groups of men, tracking their physical and emotional well-being. Collectively known as the Grant and Glueck Study, the Grant Study followed 268 graduates of Harvard who completed their university education between 1939 and 1944. The Glueck Study, meanwhile, followed 456 men growing up in impoverished inner-city areas of Boston. The project began in 1939 and some of the results were analysed and released in 2014, evidently conducted by several generations of researchers and following the children of the original men as well as the men themselves. This vast data set has offered many insights into their lives and, of course, the results of every participant were extremely varied. However, when it came to what was important and fulfilling to the participants in terms of their health and happiness, there was an overwhelming trend towards one aspect of their lives: relationships.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development analysed a wide range of data types. From blood samples to brain scans to questionnaires (every two years) to face-to-face interviews, the researchers have amassed an incredible amount of data which can be used to draw a number of conclusions about the lives of the participants. Although results have recently been released, the study is ongoing continues to track approximately 60 men who are still alive. Additionally, the study is now looking at the children born to the original group, and researching both the sons and daughters to add yet another layer to their data set and allowing them to draw conclusions between how their childhoods influenced their health in their adult lives.

The fourth director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development and psychiatry professor at Harvard, Robert Waldinger, said this about the results: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” Over career success, wealth, power and popularity on social media platforms (something which young people appear to be obsessed with these days), the men in this study felt fulfilled, happy and remained healthier because of their relationships. These don’t necessarily need to be romantic in nature and a close, trusting and supportive friendship is just as valued as being in a committed marriage.

The men in the study benefitted from their positive, supportive relationships in a number of ways. Having someone upon whom you can rely relaxes the nervous system and keeps your brain healthier. It has also been shown to reduce physical and emotional pain. Loneliness, on the other hand, leads to poor physical health and subsequently an earlier death. If you have 15 minutes to spare, please click on this link and watch Robert Waldinger’s TED Talk.

The study also looked at the relationships themselves to try and define what qualities of the relationships were affecting the men’s health. They found that relationships which were deep and meaningful, allowed those involved to feel safe and supported and in which people could relax and act like their true selves were the healthiest and were enjoyed by the happiest men in the study. In times of difficulty or stress, such as the loss of a job, it was the men who were surrounded by these relationships and had people upon whom they could rely who best coped with the changes to their situation. The men’s relationships with their mothers and their siblings were particularly noted as being significant. Robert Waldinger recommends giving the important people in our lives the attention they deserve and diverting time away from our electronic devices which, increasingly, consume more and more of our daily lives.

What should be noted, of course, is the fact that these results were universal across the studies. In 1939, when The Harvard Study of Adult Development began, the researchers had basically selected a group of affluent, educated and, let’s face it, white men and chosen to compare them with a group of poor and uneducated young boys, many of whom didn’t have running hot water in their homes. They probably didn’t expect to discover that despite their socio-economic differences, both groups of men exhibited the exact same results when it came to their happiness. And it had nothing to do with their pay checks or the size of their house.

In the modern world there is so much focus on succeeding in life. We place emphasis on our jobs, our salaries, the number of Twitter followers we have, the number of Instagram likes we get, what photo to post of Facebook to show off to our friends about our amazing lives. And yet, at the end of the day, none of this makes us happy. Not truly. In order to be fulfilled and to derive some kind of meaning out of our lives, we need to share it with people with whom we have developed good relationships. Invest time in your social life rather than your work life or developing a superficial social media presence and the time you spend will reward you in the form of a happier, healthier and more fulfilled life than any bank balance or number of followers ever could. Lean in to relationships and make yourself happier and healthier.

Go. Do. Experience. More Good Deeds.