Multiplication Center

What makes for a happy and healthy life?

January 1, 2016

old-couple1For over 75 years (yes you read that right) Harvard University has been tracking and studying the lives of 724 men from two different control groups. The first group was from among the best and brightest—a group of sophomore men at Harvard. The second group was from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, chosen specifically from the “most troubled and disadvantaged families…most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.” They wanted to discover “What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?” Known as the Grant Study, it is the longest longitudinal study of men—following the lives of men beginning at age 18 to well into their 90s. The results of the study are contained in the 2014 book, The Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study.

The authors of the study created what they called the “Decathalon of Flourishing”-a list of ten accomplishments, “which included career success and professional prominence, mental and physical health, a good marriage, supportive friendships, closeness to one’s children, the ability to enjoy work, love, and play, and a subjective level of happiness and measured the level to which each man in the study had achieved these events between the ages 65-80.”

So what did they learn? The fourth and current director of the study, Robert Waldinger, gives us the answer in his 2015 TED talk. “What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Waldinger goes on to say, “Once we had followed our men all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. And when we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old.”


Ecomically…it is not about the economics but it’s about healthy relationships. “The powerful effect of intimate relationships can be seen in a variety of factors in a man’s life, including their income levels:

  • Men with at least one good relationship with a sibling growing up made $51,000 more per year than men who had poor relationships with their siblings, or no siblings at all
  • Men who grew up in cohesive homes made $66,000 more per year than men from unstable ones
  • Men with warm mothers took home $87,000 more than those men whose mothers were uncaring
  • The 58 men with the best scores for warm relationships made almost $150,000 more per year than the 31 men with the worst scores

Finding love early

“The majority of the men who flourished found love before thirty, and that was why they flourished.” Brett and Kay McKay provide insight in their article, Love is all you need: “Why would this be so? Men who were loved, and learned to love in their younger years, develop positive mental health, resilience, and a capacity for intimacy — qualities that ‘reflect the process of replacing narcissism with empathy’ and lead to greater confidence, autonomy, social and emotional intelligence, and maturity. These traits in turn lead not only to more relationships, but success in other areas (like one’s career).”

Starting today

Robert Waldinger concludes his talk by asking, “So what about you? Let’s say you’re 25, or you’re 40, or you’re 60. What might leaning in to relationships even look like? 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. The good life is built with good relationships.”


Recent Articles