An 80-Year Harvard Study Reveals the Secret to Long-Term Happiness

It isn’t money, success, fame, or following your passion

Neeramitra ReddyFollowJan 4 · 4 min read

A couple holding coffee mugs with a pet pug
Image by 5688709 from Pixabay

For over 80 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has tracked the well-being of two demographics: 268 graduates from the batches of 1939–1944 and 456 poor men growing up in Boston since 1939.

Since pre-World War II, they’ve painstakingly scrutinized blood samples, performed brain scans, collated surveys, and actually interacted with these men.

In fact, the sheer length of the study demanded the dedication of multiple generations of researchers.

And the windy and diverse +75-year life-paths of those 700 odd men led to a shockingly common and solid conclusion.

To quote psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development:

The clearest message that we get from this 80-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

So, it isn’t that sprawling villa, a maxed-out Roth-IRA, a 10k Instagram following, the latest Lambo, making it to Maxim’s cover, or reaching the top of the corporate ladder.

It’s love and affection.

There’s an Enormous Caveat Though

Particularly, they found an overarching need for someone you could rely on and relate to — this eases pain, relaxes your nervous system, and impedes the aging of your brain.

But this doesn’t mean you need a ton of friends or a serious romantic relationship. As Waldinger says,

It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. Not the quantity.”

Raw vulnerability. Comfort with being seen for who you truly are. The safety of sharing the most private of things. Matching intellectual and emotional depths. Infectious positivity.

These are the determining factors.

In my high school and early college days, I had tons of “friends”. Now, I can count my friends with a single hand’s fingers.

In hindsight, the former were mere acquaintances that loved putting each other down. The latter?


A Goldmine Most Blatantly Ignore

For a long time, I considered it “uncool” to hang out with my family and kept my “immature” little brother at arm’s length.

I used to complain about how staying with my family sucked — because it impeded my “freedom” to “live”. I was jealous of my friends that were living their “best life” alone.

But a video by Hamza opened my eyes to how wrong I had been.

While there’s still some annoying nagging, my relationship with my mother has never been more fun. And my brother’s become one of my closest friends.

“Families are like branches on a tree. We grow in different directions, yet our roots remain as one.”

— Anonymous

Between family banter and hour-long conversations with my brother, I’ve lost the itch to call up friends.

Stop ignoring the diamond mine of your actual family. Friends and romantic partners are only additions.

But There’s Another Way

Be it losing your loved ones to death or being estranged by your friends, there will be times when you’re alone.

Or you go through a personal mishap that makes you crave solitude. What then?

As George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, says:

“While one way is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”

Be it mounting job stress or crippling disease, our first response to adversity is pushing our loved ones away — not out of the lack of love, but because of resentment towards life itself.

Or worse, falling into drug, alcohol, cigarette, or porn addictions.

Choose the right coping mechanismsPour your negative energy into working out or writing. Vent to your best friend. Take a chilling cold shower. Go lie in your mother’s embrace and feel your worries vaporize.

Fortify your belief system. Get rid of your limiting beliefs and acquire enabling ones. Visualize your goals. Wield powerful affirmations. Do things that yank you out of your comfort zone.

The problems won’t go away — but they will become leagues easier to deal with.

Final Words

It all burns down to two things — cultivating strong relationships and fortifying your own mind to brave adversity independently.

Both start with self-love. Start working out. Eat (mostly) clean. Sleep 8+ hours every night. Practice gratitude. Reduce your screentime. Develop good habits. Quit bad ones. Be hygienic. Dress better. Meditate.

Love yourself. Love your friends. Love your family. Love your romantic partner.

The good life will automatically follow.

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