Advice from Harvard’s top happiness researcher
As he’s shared in things like his hugely popular TED talk, “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons From the Longest Study on Happiness,” Robert Waldinger knows well the surest, and most scientifically measurable, path to personal well-being. (It’s relationships, stupid, though he hails from Iowa and would never speak to anyone like that.)
Waldinger, a psychiatrist, heads the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has tracked, in great depth, the lives of more than 700 Harvard and inner-city Boston men for 80 years, and more recently analyzed the DNA, health habits and life satisfaction surveys of their wives and children, too. The unusually vast longitudinal study gives its fourth director a unique vantage point on how lives — be they WASP-y or working class, Depression-era or 21st century, John F. Kennedy’s or Ben Bradlee’s — can unspool into contentment or veer into bitterness, chug along on course or be upended without warning. It also provides tidy answers to questions like whether the strength of your relationships at 50 or your cholesterol is a better indicator of your health at 80 (it’s the former, though you probably guessed that by now).
But if it’s interesting that, say, 80-year-olds with healthy marriages tolerate physical pain better than those in unhealthy ones, Waldinger, who happens to be a Zen priest, doesn’t understate the human complexity behind the data-driven takeaways. Those octogenarians in the most protective of marriages, he notes, can still “bicker like crazy,” and all those health-sustaining relationships, he wants you to know, take work, “really, a lot of work.”
Read More: Give Yourself the Gift of a Good Life