Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness

Robert Waldinger,1 a psychiatrist at Harvard Medical School talks about a famous long term study of adult development done by Harvard and shares his findings about what made the lives of the participants happy or sad as they aged. While the talk itself isn't very detailed and offers a too long, didn't read summary (quite typical of a TED talk, probably one of the important reasons to hate it if you are critical), the publications page2 on the website offers a comprehensive and interesting list of findings.

The main ideas that he put forward in this talk:

  • Good relations will be the major source of happiness in different stages of life, specially towards the end.
  • Loneliness, though, attractive philosophically, is a killing force.
  • Lean towards your social relationships by making intermittent efforts throughout.
  • Good relationships will buffer your from the physical and emotional pain due to other engagements.

All these effects were markedly correlated with the changes in the cognitive ability, mortality and general well-being.

There is one thing, however, that I would have loved to know. In the beginning, Robert described two groups of people participating in the study. One group consisting of students from the Harvard and the other group from poor neighborhoods of Boston. What differences did he observe in these groups as they aged? How did the 'happiness' versus 'age' graph of these groups look like? Just because the latter group had lower expectations, they were happier or could it be something else?

blog by Vivek Rai