75-year Harvard Study: 1 Secret to Happiness

“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.”

75-year Harvard Study: 1 Secret to Happiness

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What does it take to have a good life? Getting caught in the vicious cycle of owing a booming business, respected career, luxury vehicle, dream house? Constantly pushing harder and working towards a certain goal? Do these things really give us long-lasting happiness?  The main question is, what is that ‘one thing’ that keeps us happy and healthy as we travel through our journey of life?.

Let’s understand the science behind true happiness and take wisdom from one of the longest longitudinal studies ever conducted by Harvard, ‘The Study of Adult Development.’ The study has been following two groups of men over the last 80 years to identify the psychosocial predictors of healthy aging.  Researchers have collected a cornucopia of data on their physical and mental health.

It all started in 1938 during the Great Depression when scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores, they hoped the longitudinal study would reveal clues to leading healthy and happy lives.


1 Secret to happiness: RELATIONSHIPS

The revelation of the study was revealed by the director of the Study, Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, he said, “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships have a powerful influence on our health, taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

The study further revealed that our close relationships, more than money or fame, is the key element that keeps us going throughout our lives.  Close relationship ties protect us from life’s discontents, and anything that goes wrong in our life, the close relationships only delay our mental and physical decline and are better predictors of long and happy lives than high social class, good  IQ, or even good genes. 

People who were satisfied with their relationships at the age of 50 were found to have better physical health.

“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.” The director of the study said in a popular TED talk titled “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness,” in 2015, and it has been viewed 13,000,000 times.

“Loneliness Kills”

Said Waldinger, “Loneliness Kills, It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”  Health and happiness don’t depend on the cholesterol level of the people but “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.”

He further said in the TED talk that People who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier and the loners often died earlier.

According to the study, those who lived longer and enjoyed sound health avoided smoking and alcohol in excess. Researchers also found that those with strong social support experienced less mental deterioration as they age.

In part of a recent study, researchers found that women who felt securely attached to their partners were less depressed and happier in their relationships two-and-a-half years later, and also had better memory functions than those with frequent marital conflicts.

“It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time,’ ” Waldinger said. “So I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to.”

Key to Healthy Aging

“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Vaillant. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

Social connections 

Waldinger said, “It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to the community are happier, they’re physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected,”

On the contrary, keeping to yourself and experiencing loneliness is toxic. Waldinger points out that people can even feel lonely in a crowd of people or in their marriage.

“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,” Waldinger explained.


Good and close relationships and a happy marriage can keep us happier and healthier. Period.

About the Grant study

The Grant Study is composed of 268 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939-1944 and the Glueck Study group is made up of 456 men who grew up in the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston.  The study is particularly interested in what psychosocial variables and biological processes from earlier in life predict health and well-being in late life (80’s and 90’s), what aspects of childhood and adult experience predict the quality of intimate relationships in late life, and how late-life marriage is linked with health and well-being.  They are now beginning to study the children of our original participants in our G2 (Second Generation) study.