What Makes Us Happy, According to a 75-Year Harvard Study

Beginning in 1938, Harvard psychologists set out to determine what factors had the greatest impact on the overall happiness of men. They didn’t try to wrap this study up in the course of a week or even six months – Harvard was in this for the long haul, following some 268 male undergraduates for 75 years to find out just what makes them happy. Spoiler alert: it has to do with loving relationships.

As Robert Waldinger, current director of the study notes in his TED Talk above, good relationships are what makes us happier, and stronger. Even if they were originally quoted as life goals, fame, money or overachievement have actually little to do with what makes a good life. The main result of the study is that staying socially connected, whereas it’s with friends, family, or a community, makes us physically healthier, have a better memory and therefore live longer. In other words, loneliness kills – a very important fact as 1 out of 5 Americans consider themselves lonely.

FeelGuide.com digs a little deeper and notices an interesting point about the study; the number one deterrent to a happy romantic relationship is alcoholism, which the study found to be a “disorder of great destructive power.” While it probably doesn’t come as any surprise that alcoholism doesn’t help happiness and can bring trouble to anyone’s life, the study found that neurosis and depression generally followed alcohol abuse, instead of the common misconception that they brought it on. Another big cause for earlier death is cigarette smoking, which when coupled with alcoholism was the #1 contributor to death.

The study also contains some interesting findings about the sex lives and incomes of men. For unknown reasons, conservative men were found to have less sex after age 68 than men with liberal political viewpoints. Also, men who had warm relationships with their mothers during childhood had higher incomes. Via Business Insider:

“Men who had ‘warm’ childhood relationships with their mothers took home $87,000 more per year than men whose mothers were uncaring. Men who had poor childhood relationships with their mothers were also much more likely to develop dementia when old.”

While it appears that the mother-to-child relationship has the greatest impact on a man’s income potential, it’s interesting to note that men who had strong relationships with their fathers during childhood were shown to have less anxiety.

What we can take away from all these findings is that strong, loving relationships are of the utmost importance in happiness and longevity. “Of the 31 men in the study incapable of establishing intimate bonds, only 4 are still alive. Of those who were better at forming relationships, more than a third is still living.”

Bottom line, $20 million dollars – the total cost of the study – and 75 years taught us one key thing: happiness is love. Full stop. And let’s add to that, don’t start smoking or hit the bottle too hard.

Cover photo: Pinterest.