What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | Robert Waldinger

What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life? If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time
and your energy? There was a recent survey of millennials asking them what their
most important life goals were, and over 80 percent said that a major life goal for them
was to get rich. And another 50 percent
of those same young adults said that another major life goal was to become famous. (Laughter) And we’re constantly told
to lean in to work, to push harder and achieve more. We’re given the impression that these
are the things that we need to go after in order to have a good life. Pictures of entire lives, of the choices that people make
and how those choices work out for them, those pictures
are almost impossible to get. Most of what we know about human life we know from asking people
to remember the past, and as we know, hindsight
is anything but 20/20. We forget vast amounts
of what happens to us in life, and sometimes memory
is downright creative. But what if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people
from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age to see what really keeps people
happy and healthy? We did that. The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study
of adult life that’s ever been done. For 75 years, we’ve tracked
the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work,
their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way
without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out. Studies like this are exceedingly rare. Almost all projects of this kind
fall apart within a decade because too many people
drop out of the study, or funding for the research dries up, or the researchers get distracted, or they die, and nobody moves the ball
further down the field. But through a combination of luck and the persistence
of several generations of researchers, this study has survived. About 60 of our original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men. And I’m the fourth director of the study. Since 1938, we’ve tracked the lives
of two groups of men. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores
at Harvard College. They all finished college
during World War II, and then most went off
to serve in the war. And the second group that we’ve followed was a group of boys
from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were
from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements,
many without hot and cold running water. When they entered the study, all of these teenagers were interviewed. They were given medical exams. We went to their homes
and we interviewed their parents. And then these teenagers
grew up into adults who entered all walks of life. They became factory workers and lawyers
and bricklayers and doctors, one President of the United States. Some developed alcoholism.
A few developed schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder from the bottom
all the way to the very top, and some made that journey
in the opposite direction. The founders of this study would never in their wildest dreams have imagined that I would be
standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that
the study still continues. Every two years, our patient
and dedicated research staff calls up our men
and asks them if we can send them yet one more set of questions
about their lives. Many of the inner city Boston men ask us, “Why do you keep wanting to study me?
My life just isn’t that interesting.” The Harvard men never ask that question. (Laughter) To get the clearest picture
of these lives, we don’t just send them questionnaires. We interview them in their living rooms. We get their medical records
from their doctors. We draw their blood, we scan their brains, we talk to their children. We videotape them talking with their wives
about their deepest concerns. And when, about a decade ago,
we finally asked the wives if they would join us
as members of the study, many of the women said,
“You know, it’s about time.” (Laughter) So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come
from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth
or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get
from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us
happier and healthier. Period. We’ve learned three big lessons
about relationships. The first is that social connections
are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people
who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier,
and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness
turns out to be toxic. 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. And the sad fact
is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans
will report that they’re lonely. And we know that you
can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just
the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not
you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality
of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst
of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example,
without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health,
perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good,
warm relationships is protective. Once we had followed our men
all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow
into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. And when we gathered together
everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle age
cholesterol levels that predicted how they
were going to grow old. 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. And good, close relationships
seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows
of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days
when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were
in unhappy relationships, on the days when they
reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain. And the third big lesson that we learned
about relationships and our health is that good relationships
don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being
in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s
is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count
on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories
stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really
can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience
earlier memory decline. And those good relationships,
they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples
could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they
could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll
on their memories. So this message, that good, close relationships
are good for our health and well-being, this is wisdom that’s as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get
and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that’ll make our lives good
and keep them that way. Relationships are messy
and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending
to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. It never ends. The people in our 75-year study
who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked
to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials
in that recent survey, many of our men when they
were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth
and high achievement were what they needed to go after
to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years,
our study has shown that the people who fared the best were
the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community. So what about you? Let’s say you’re 25,
or you’re 40, or you’re 60. What might leaning in
to relationships even look like? Well, the possibilities
are practically endless. It might be something as simple
as replacing screen time with people time or livening up a stale relationship
by doing something new together, long walks or date nights, or reaching out to that family member
who you haven’t spoken to in years, because those all-too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges. I’d like to close with a quote
from Mark Twain. More than a century ago, he was looking back on his life, and he wrote this: “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies,
heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant,
so to speak, for that.” The good life is built
with good relationships. Thank you. (Applause)


  1. Are most of those men's wives dead? Perhaps they did not show happiness as much as men, but we'll never know, as they were not studied too.

  2. This is bad news to introverts then. It's not always easy to build meaningful relationships. Not everyone is adept to social skills or even capable of keeping a small talk running for 5 mins. It's not that we dont try. It's just what it is.

  3. Every single soul alive needs money ie.work but to seek true happiness you need to overcome your inner self n try to appreciate with whatever conditions you are in…??????

  4. He should have spent some time explaining what happiness is. He should have showed us more evidences, and explained how these support their conclusions. For instance he could have explained more in detail how being social lowers cholesterol levels. Anyway I found the whole thing not convincing at all.

  5. Social connection ? Big question when you will find people that truly fit into your life and so far its very hard to find it when people like myself divided between two cultures it's hard but the universe will connect me with the correct people that open minded and more close to my world of thinking that is peace and love

  6. You missed the point completely that SINGLE PEOPLE ARE NOT AUTOMATICALLY LONELY! I am single BY CHOICE and staying that way. Also no kids BY CHOICE. I’ll never change that. I AM VERY HAPPY.

  7. Contrast plus harmony creates an explosion of joy called "celebration" whereby the joy created is greater than the sum of the parts.

    But when hearts encounter a black hole in space called "ego" …the black hole (ego) in space sucks out the light and warmth (stars/hearts) out of the heavens (joy, beauty and harmony). Leaving an empty, dark , desolate, black hole in space …completely absent of light warmth love joy magic meaning beauty and wisdom.

  8. Have good connections and more essentially pray to God in the name of Jesus Christ.

    1. Having good connections in your social relationships and harboring and fostering these connections being very aware about the environment around you.
    Be positive about yourself and be aware when negativity is nearby so that you can return to being positive.

    2. No matter where you grew up or where you are now, remember to be kind to others and learn to forgive and forget, not expecting anything from anyone or through any situation.
    Remember that your life and existence is not guaranteed tomorrow and love God (Seriously we already have answers in front of us and yet we ask for more – I find that the more you look deeper into studying Christ first out of curiosity and removing your pride the more you will become passionate about what his philosophy, teachings, and examples are).

    3. Have a good growth mindset, humble yourself within and acknowledge that yeah, I am not really in charge of anything but I can make the best out of anything I want to when I want to and my source of joy is within me so that means in everything I do I can share this joy with everyone else.

    4. Be patient and really be honest not only to other people but essentially to yourself. Treat yourself well, don't intentionally do things that you really know isn't good for your well being and be wise in averting trouble. Just run from it flee if you must, it becomes a game you play against yourself in seeing how well you can keep yourself safe from trouble and concealing yourself from danger so that you can be free from frustrating difficulties.

    5. Don't overwork yourself, get some rest. As in work for six days and rest one day because this concept means you still have a holiday to look forward to where you recover and consolidate yourself. But that doesn't mean you should have an excuse to not be productive in your day. Have a clear honest goal that livens you and work towards it not for it. Ask yourself (yes speak to the inner you the you that no one else can speak to but you. The you that is silent that cares for you deeply and watches what you do who is with you in your happiness, your struggles, your pain, your moments of joy) ask yourself how you can work to improve yourself now. Remember to pray – it's such a simple thing to do yet is so powerful when you know how to use it well.

    6. Have a plan. You need a schedule of some sort because that is how your monitor and keep track of yourself. Start small and continue. Remember that you don't know what will happen next but you can implement a strategy that ensures that you allow what you want to occur when you plan it to. Just have a plan for the day, that by the end of the day you will refrain from doing a set of things and be able to focus on one goal so that you look forward to it and it doesn't become lingering thought throughout the back of your mind all throughout the day. Say you're gonna do something and do it – I won't benefit from it, your friends won't benefit from it, your family won't benefit from it, but you will benefit from it so execute your orders. You are the C.E.O of your life and your body is a company you are contracted to govern through an agreement God planned for you when your parents brought you into this world.

    7. Listen. Yes listen to yourself, listen to others. Listen to the environment. Listen to the context of the situation. The are many things happening indirectly or behind the scenes that when you listen carefully you will pick up on. It's like an instinct you can hone (in fact anything can be honed such as habits and behaviors to skills and knowledge and observing) that is why practice makes perfect. Language is just interpretation but if you listen to the context you will pick up small chunks of many details and make up a grand picture of the gist. (English is not my first language and as a learner i learned that if you don't understand a word look at the surrounding words in that sentence and maybe you can fill in the blanks) so really pay attention to what you do; you just might catch something unintentionally.

    8. Sleep. Yeah sleep when it is time to sleep and honor your body when it is tired. If you can't give your body something naturally good that ensures your survival (ie sleep) then how can you trust yourself that when you get something else that doesn't come naturally that is good you will be able to appreciate it? So basically respect the small simple stuff and that transitions to other aspects.

    9. Breathe. Yeah I probably sound like I'm stating the obvious but in fact it is true. You gotta breath deeply, control your breathing, breathe calmly and breathe playfully, laugh and expel air from you in different ways, you are a being of life, express yourself in the most fundamental forms and grow from expressing yourself to other things. Channel your energy that mischievous essence within. Just relax drink water eat fruits and vegetables so that your body is also happy to participate in life. Don't stress be blessed.

    10. Learn. Your brain is a supercomputer and so you must feed it with good food too. Be mindful that you are not doing anything that will harm it, yes even things that might seem good at first glance can harm it like distracting media and tantalizing baits.

    You must suffer for happiness, be brought down for it. Remove all forms of doubt, pride, expectation, and be silent in your discipline towards your goal. Stay safe out there wherever you are my fellow brothers and sisters, thanks for reading this long-azz comment. It's all only based on my 22 years experience on this Earth so far but I am a slow learner and I fail so many times because of my own insolence. I really just want to share something I think others will find some elements of applicable to their own lives as well so here you go a free gift of advice from me.

  9. Is true but let not just say happy couple
    Make live long.why not look how we work .what we eat smoke .long hrs at
    Job .stress we all live in.

  10. Good to know that I will never see old age. I can’t connect to people at all. Oh well, I’ll just ride my motorcycle until I die.

  11. Erm. I have a dysfunctional family. I am happily alone because i am not around negative toxic people. LOL… all this bloody nonsense

  12. The Internet has poisoned the lives of the so called millennials. The dumbest and most clueless generation on record and it’s not even their fault.

  13. This was so impressive and thought-provoking. He said the main word. I think I'm going to take it serious to communicate more and connect more with other people. Thank you

  14. Its wonderful that we know what has made these mens lives good.

    Can we do the same study for women please? Because what we prioritize does differ based on life experience, and the experiences of men are different than the experiences of women, just as we need to know if the same rules apply for people of colour and so on.

  15. I'm so glad I realizes this so soon in my life. I'm only 23 and I realized this last year…. My main goal is live a happy life… Many people struggle finding happiness, but I know that I am the most happy when I spend my time with people that make me feel good emotionally.

    It's hard to let go of people that you love and hurt you emotionally. But when you realize that the person you should love the most is yourself then you realize you have to remove those negative people from your life even if you love them. Because you love yourself more. ?

  16. Just get to the point. Problem with people is if you give them a stage they want to be in the limelight and drag things out.

  17. Hello.. if you are feeling sad, please take a moment to read this. ? You are amazing and will always be, no matter what you think. Some people might mistreat you, but deep down, I think they all just want to appreciate you for who you are and are only doing so because of stress, confusion, and anger, none of which to do with the beautiful human being known as you. ? I believe in you, that you can make a difference, and achieve you goals. Just keep trying, and know that I support you no matter what. ~ Eshaal ?

  18. I’m super isolated from others and I’ve never been happier. I exercise regularly, I eat healthy and I’m very fit. The findings of the study don’t apply at all in my case but I agree that relationships are good for most men.

  19. I'm happy now. I'm not rich nor am I famous, but I do have two loving parents who care for me and my younger brother unconditionally. Those 3 are the most important people in my life. I have food on the table, roof over my head, and just about everything on the bottom 4 levels of Maslow's Hierarchy of needs. I can literally die tomorrow and say I lived a happy life.

    Edit: I commented this before even viewing the video. Build healthy relationships! It truly is the key to happiness.

  20. the real happiness is about the truth of the real reason of our coming to this world and where are we going to?when we say god created us and sent his prophets to guide us to him you deny him and religien..so you want to create happiness by your own system…after death you will be all surprised by the real fact of islam the religien of all prophets.think of it

  21. I do not understand why 90% humans today want to live upto 80.

    I think if one lives above 50 then it is more than enough bcause after 50 we pay for what we did to our body and relationships in the last 50 years.

    Scientifically our body is not made to live upto 100 year. Hence we get infected with diseases post 50 like cancer, alzeimer, memory loss……

    Also, people expecting to live above 80 are very greedy.

  22. Without money there is no life. Other things are also important but money is definitely more important because it makes life better and comfortable. Though i think after 60 spend more funny time with your grands children.

  23. The only people this study doesn’t apply to are narcissists.
    The more toxic the relationship they create, the better they thrive in it, while the victims health declines and is destroyed.
    Snakes are immune to their own poison, after all.

  24. I've always been contented, but never happy. Lower expectations is beneficial & living with gratitude. Faith in an Almighty God is a must. ???

  25. Happiness is truly obtained from having a healthy relationship with family, friends and society. Yet there are some people in the world who choose to be lonely and that's what makes them happy. Either way, death is inevitable for the happy and the lonely.

  26. If you can make other people happy, if you do the best that you can do and you accomplish what you set out to
    accomplish and you have at least one good honest friend. .and you gave you're best at all things you undertook and didn't use or abuse anyone nor a friend and you were true to you're word.
    …well that is a great start….right?!

  27. i actually don't want to be happy. There's a plethora of emotions besides happiness.
    i would rather just be me than happy. To me happiness is for normies.

    With the MELAS syndrome genetic mutation i can't be healthy. Normal health advice is actually harmful to me exercise intolerance leads to lactic acidosis.

    What's “good“?

  28. I find it so very unscientific not to have an equal sample of women. The results of any study will be skewed without the experience of the bigger half of the population.

  29. What about me? It seems to be that I'm going to die on my 60s. loneliness is a b****, but I'd rather be like that than having another so-called friend talkingshit behind my back or scamming me over something. who can have proper and prosperous relationship with so many shady people out there?

  30. You lost me at « 724 MEN »… Include women in your study, next time. They’re only about half the world population, after all… Thanks.

  31. I want to ask if we really need all these relationships? Is it impossible to have a good life alone ? I really enjoy myself when i dont have a relationship and having my time thinking and reading., is that bad for health? Isn’t it better to minimize our expectations from the people around us ?
    I liked this vedio but also many questions should be included in this worksheet

  32. There is another reason the importance of relationships are ignored and fame and money are emphasized. It is because patriarchal values are held higher than feminist values, in society at large, because we are a profit based world in which big corporations run international dynamics. Patriarchy emphasizes the top dogs and the kings of the mountain; centralized authority reigns. Feminism emphasizes the network and the values of cooperation. Every study shows that when women can get educations and have a voice in society, all of society benefits; crime goes down, children are better educated, public health improves, zero population growth ensues spontaneously (because a woman with an education prefers a couple of children and a good job to popping out babies every year till menopause) and the societal benefits go on and on and on.
    It is worthy of note that this study was done on men only, and that they did not even think to include their partners in interviews, till very late in the game.

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