What Makes a Good Life? Take Home Lessons From the World’s Longest Happiness Study

Celebrate World Happiness Day by delving into what really makes us happy

Two male friends jumping on salt flat desert landscape while adv


What makes us truly happy? According to an ongoing study that began in 1938, it isn’t fame and it isn’t wealth and it doesn’t vary according to socio-economic backgrounds.

During the 75 year-long Harvard Study of Adult Development, 724 men have been tracked and studied, on everything from work, life, health and everything in between, in order to get an accurate depiction of lifelong happiness without the sometimes rosy-coloured glasses of hindsight. They’ve since added women and the children of the original men to the ongoing study.

The original men were taken from two groups: one group was college educated and served in the war and the other was from the poorest areas of Boston, where running water was a rarity.

Researchers have checked in with them every two years to record their developments. And the discovery from the longest study of happiness is this: good, strong relationships make for better, longer and happier lives.

While it seems obvious, Robert observes it’s not what many believe constitutes the core of their contentment.

“What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that’ll make our lives good and keep them that way,” Robert Waldinger, the study’s director, points out. “Relationships are messy and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous.”

But, Robert points out, an exceedingly worthwhile investment of time and energy.


Watch the wildly popular TED Talk, What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness in full below.