How to Be Happier and Live Longer
After nearly 80 years of longitudinal study, the Harvard-Grant Study has proved that embracing one’s community helps us live longer with less stress and be happier. This study began in 1938 tracking the health and long-term success and happiness of 268 Harvard sophomores (all white males at the start, in the classes of 1942, 1943, & 1944). The study was funded to answer the question of what makes us happy and to identify predictors of healthy aging. Recognizing the limitations of the initial cohort, a second cohort of 456 disadvantaged, non-delinquent, inner-city male youths in Boston was started and termed, the Glueck Study. Today, the men continue to be evaluated every two years using questionnaires, information from their physicians, and personal interviews. Several books have been written with the findings. Among the most notable Grant Study participants is former President John F. Kennedy.
The main conclusion of this 80-year study is that the warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest impact on life satisfaction. The team psychiatrist of the study was Dr. George Vaillant. Dr. Vaillant framed the main conclusion this way: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” He pointed out that when the study began in 1938 no one cared about empathy or attachment. Now, “the key to healthy aging and life happiness is relationships, relationships, relationships.” Good relationships protect our bodies and our brains. The current principal investigator, Robert Waldinger, said, “Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” Good marital partners help each other reduce stress. Good relationships, the data indicate, are what keep people happy throughout their lives and are correlated with longevity.
Along the same point of the power of relationships is the finding that financial success also depends on the warmth of a person’s relationships – not on intelligence or hard work. People who are able to generate good relationships are people with strong emotional intelligence. It turns out that emotional intelligence is much more highly correlated with personal and professional success than IQ. Further, emotional intelligence skills are learnable and measurable. Empathy, self-awareness, and impulse control are relationship skills, and the people who have them tend to form strong bonds with others.
It was also found by analyzing the masses of data collected over the years that alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power and it is the main cause of divorce between the Grant Study men and their wives. Further, it is possible to say that alcoholism plus cigarette smoking is the single greatest contributor to early death of the study participants.
Waldinger says that these findings have changed his own behavior: “it’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time.’” So, Waldinger said, “I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to.”