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What can you learn from the 75 year study about happiness?

The department of Study of Adult Development at Harvard, conducted two longitudinal studies, The Grant Study and The Glueck Study in 1939. The Grant study included 268 Harvard graduates from classes of 1939-1944. The population of the Glueck study was composed of 456 men from the inner-city neighbourhoods of Boston. 

The reason why this study is so special is not just because it was longitudinal, lasting for 75 years. The research methodology of this study is also quite interesting. This study began when the participants were teenagers and continued throughout their life. 

During this time, their physical and mental health was tested. Questionnaires were filled by participants, along with physical health checkups conducted every five years. To gain even further in-depth information, the researchers went to their homes and conducted interviews. The interviews were focused on topics of their relationships, careers, and adjustment to ageing. 

This research aimed to look for factors that could predict the secret of a happy and healthy life. 

Any guesses on what they must have found?

Robert Waldinger, director of this study, revealed some fascinating findings of this research in his TED Talk - What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness

Here are some of the highlights of this study -

The number one predictor of happiness and good health is good relationships.

Psychiatrist George Vaillant stated that “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy ageing is relationships, relationships, relationships.” In addition to this, Dr. Waldiner says in his TED Talk that “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

It is interesting to note that the relationships that Dr. Waldiner mentions are not necessarily smooth all the time. They found that the couples in their research fought with each other at times. But as long as they felt that they could count on each other, they felt loved and had healthy relationships.

Loneliness is harmful. The research found that people who experienced loneliness were less happy and they experienced more physical and emotional pain. In the words of Dr. Waldiner, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

The secret to healthy ageing is to take good care of your body in the early years. Emphasising this point, Dr. Waldiner states that “The best advice I can give is ‘Take care of your body as though you were going to need it for 100 years,’ because you might.”

These were the three major takeaways from this research. 

Now, let us look at some action steps (based on these research findings) that you can take to live a healthier and happier life. 

  1. Spend more time with your loved ones. Cherish the relationships you have with your family and friends. Make spending quality time with your close ones a priority. List down different things you will do together with your friends and family. Spend a week doing those activities. Check off items from that list by the end of the week.
  2. Reach out to people with whom you have lost touch. There are numerous times when we lose touch with people we were once close to. Take this as a reminder and call those whom you have lost touch with. Try to make plans to meet up once in a while. These encounters will leave you with happy memories to cherish.
  3. Live a healthy lifestyle. Make a list of all the things you would like to change in your lifestyle to make it a healthy one. One by one inculcate those changes in your daily routine. Eat healthy, sleep well, and exercise regularly. 

These are a few things that you can do to live healthily and happily even when you grow old. 

Stay tuned for more such fascinating research findings and actionable tips.