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Summary of What Makes a Good Life?

What Makes a Good Life?  summary

Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness

Robert Waldinger

Recommendation

Wealth, success and fame may seem attractive, but strong, supportive relationships are the keys to a happy and healthy life. Robert Waldinger, the current director of a 75-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, provides evidence to support this conventional wisdom and shares three revelations about true happiness. If affluence and fame are your main drivers, getAbstract suggests this talk may point you in a new direction.

In this summary, you will learn

  • What findings Harvard University’s Study of Adult Development discovered,
  • How the researchers conducted the study and
  • What three important lessons about lifelong happiness the study revealed.

Take-Aways

  • A 75-year Harvard University research study tracked 724 men throughout their adult lives to determine what contributes most to a happy and healthy life.
  • The data have homed in on one clear conclusion: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
  • While social connections are crucial for a good life, loneliness can be deadly.
  • People in loving relationships live longer and are more content than those in high-conflict relationships, and those in supportive, reciprocal relationships tend to experience less memory loss.
  • Make time for those you love, and reach out to those who have drifted from you; “all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.”

Summary

In a recent survey of millennials, 80% claimed a major life goal was “to get rich,” while 50% stated their desire “to become famous.” But do these factors actually deliver on the promise of a good life? In 1938, a Harvard University research team began a study to track the lives of 724 men. The study continues to follow the surviving participants and has expanded to include the original subjects’ spouses and their more than 2,000 offspring.

At the start of the study, all subjects were either Harvard University sophomores or disadvantaged boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. As adults, they pursued all manner of livelihoods. One even became a US president [John F. Kennedy]. Over the years, researchers conducted in-depth interviews with subjects and their families, reviewed their medical records, and tracked their lives. Some participants developed mental illnesses or became alcoholics. Some scaled the social ladder, while others descended. The 75-year study generated reams of data, which all point to one clear revelation: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” The study offers three lessons:

  1. Social connections are crucial for a happy and healthy life; loneliness is deadly. People who develop close relationships and have a wide circle of friends live longer and have a higher quality of life than those who feel isolated and lonely.
  2. The quality of the relationship matters. People in supportive and loving relationships live longer than those in high-conflict relationships, even if the latter are monogamous or long-term. Furthermore, people in strong relationships are better able to handle emotional and physical pain.
  3. People in supportive relationships experience less memory loss. When people feel they can count on their partners through life’s ups and downs, even if they may argue, their memories remain clearer into their elder years.

“Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old.”

There is no “quick fix” for a good life. Nurturing your relationships takes energy and commitment, but subjects who were happiest in old age were those who “leaned into relationships with family, with friends, with community.” Make time for those you love, and reach out to those who have drifted away from you, because “all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.”

About the Speaker

Robert Waldinger is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

This document is restricted to personal use only.