What Makes A Good Life

“I have never met a person whose greatest need was anything other than real, unconditional love. You can find it in a simple act of kindness toward someone who needs help. There is no mistaking love…it is the common fiber of life, the flame that heats our soul, energizes our spirit and supplies passion to our lives.” – Elisabeth Kübler-Ross

WheelOfSocksWhen Robert Waldinger came on stage at a recent TED Talk to discuss the results of the longest study on happiness in history, we were all waiting breathlessly for his insights.

Would it be the achievements? After all he would know something about that being a world-renowned psychiatrist. Or maybe it was all about success and how each individual defined that? After all, the study was focused on two groups of white men and went on for 75 years starting in 1938 – just to give you a hint, white male are the most career oriented ambitious group they could have picked. The two groups were formed by 268 Harvard sophomores as part of the “Grant Study” led by Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant and 456 12- to 16-year-old boys who grew up in inner-city Boston as part of the “Glueck Study” led by Harvard Law School professor Sheldon Glueck.

The things that seemed to matter the most and contribute the most to the happiness level in the lives of each one of these individuals could be structured in three categories.

  1. Close-knit relationships. As it turns out, the men who had close relationships with their loved ones including their family, friends, even their community, were happier than the ones who didn’t. The ones who were either lonelier or who had relationships that were not as close, were less happy and even reported a higher percentage of mental illness.
  2. Relationship quality. It wasn’t the number of friends (or Facebook friends later on), it wasn’t the equivalent of the number of followers we all hope to have on Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat, in one word, it wasn’t the quantity, it was the quality. The ones who felt close to their small circle or friends or even their immediate family were significantly happier than the ones who had a lot of acquaintances, but not a lot of people they could rely on.
  3. Strong, supportive marriages. While good marriages have been linked in the past with lower rates of Alzheimer and dementia, this study showed once again that the people who had been part of supportive commitments were not only performing better mentally, but also were considerably happier than the ones who were divorced or had chosen to remain single.

While a lot of us tend to focus on our career and our success, sometimes even ignoring our loved ones or putting them second, Robert Waldinger emphasizes yet again “…over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community.”

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