On Finding Happiness

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, this week’s blog post will not be about tax policy, Medicare, or inflation.  No, we are going big this time and asking: What makes for a good life? How does one find happiness?

Hint: it does not come from fame or fortune.

In a recent TED Talk delivered by Robert Waldinger, we learn that the factor of the utmost importance for experiencing a happier and healthier life is having good relationships—strong social connections to family, friends, and community. Conversely, loneliness kills.

Waldinger is acting director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a 75-year longitudinal study tracking 724 men, of whom 60 remain alive today. Begun in 1938, the study was created to look at two distinct socioeconomic groups. The first group included Harvard sophomores, many of whom would later serve in World War II.  The second group included young boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, many in tenements without hot-and-cold running water.

Generally speaking, the Harvard students didn’t fare any better than the poor inner city kids later in life.  In both groups, those who did well maintained quality relationships and trusted in others. Those who sustained good relationships through the decades also maintained better brain and memory function.

Though it won’t be surprising to many of you, it’s worth noting the study’s finding that “those who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates.”

In the spirit of Thanksgiving, we offer Waldinger’s closing takeaway:

“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.”