This 75-Year Harvard Study Found the 1 Most Important Factor for Living a Happy and Fulfilling Life
I think we can all agree that in this chaotic world, it’s difficult to figure out what’s most important to prioritize. It’s overwhelming to maintain a career and have a personal life, tend to our social media feeds and keep up to date with our friends.
So what should you be prioritizing in terms of your time and attention in order to live a happy and fulfilling life?
For 75 years, Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study has kept track of the physical and emotional well-being of two groups of men: 456 men growing up in a poorer part of Boston from 1939 to 2014 and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes from 1939 to 1944.
Since before the Second World War, researchers have analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans and surveys. They have also interacted with the men to compile a series of findings.
What’s the main conclusion? According to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard study, there’s one thing that surpassed everything else in terms of importance for living a life of happiness and fulfilment:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how much status or authority you’ve acquired at your job or how many followers you have on social media. Nor does it matter how successful you’ve been.
None of this matters.
What matters most for living a life of happiness and fulfilment is, basically, love.
More specifically, the study shows that having someone to rely on helps your nervous system to relax. It keeps your brain healthier for longer, and reduces the amount of physical and emotional pain that your brain and body has to process.
Waldinger says the following:
“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship. It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
The key point is this:
It doesn’t matter if you have a huge social group, or if you’re in what you consider to be a ‘perfect’ romantic relationship. What matters more is the quality of the relationships you have. How much vulnerability and depth you show in your relationships. How safe you feel sharing with your loved ones. The extent to which you can truly relax and just be yourself.
George Vaillant is the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004; he said there are two key elements to the findings of the study:
“One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
Therefore, if you’ve found love in terms of having a relationship, for example, but you subsequently go through a traumatic experience, then what matters most is dealing with the trauma in a way that doesn’t push your loved ones away.
There’s a really important lesson in the study. It’s important not only to prioritize your connection with loved ones, but also your ability to process emotions and stress. Therefore, if you’re struggling with something, consider getting a good therapist, join a support group or invest in personal growth.
Because the evidence is clear. In the end, you can have all the success in the world, but if you’re not in a loving relationship, then you won’t be happy.
As Waldinger says:
“Relationships are messy and they’re complicated. But the good life is built with good relationships.”