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What Is Happiness Based On? The Results of a Lifelong Study

By Campbell Keenan August 13, 2023 Lifestyle

If you read the book, The Good Life, you will be amazed at the conclusion of an 85-year study by Harvard University. It simply states this: talk to people!

The study began in 1938, chauvinistically involving a large group of Harvard educated men and young Boston boys from disadvantaged families. 

It grew to include their children, their partners and now equal numbers of men and women.

What the study found can be summed up with this sentence:

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

So, your relationships are important for not only your happiness but also your health. And money and wealth have nothing to do with happiness.

Many young people consider making money or becoming famous as their goals, but older people say happiness is more important than wealth or success. Especially happiness that comes from close relationships with family, friends and the community you live in.

Watch the video below by the articulate Harvard psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, Robert Waldinger, who is one of the directors of the study:

Key Points of the Study

  • Most old relationships fall by the wayside through lack of contact or effort. Women seem to be much better at keeping up relationships than men. In some cultures, it may not seem masculine to discuss confidences, but many men have close friends with whom anything can be discussed.
  • It doesn’t matter if you are an extrovert or an introvert, whether you make friends easily or not. But you do need at least one close friend or partner to whom you can turn to discuss difficulties when you need help or just for a chat anytime.
  • Contact with people flourishes if you join activities you enjoy or need. Sports, gyms, book clubs, walking groups, bridge, volunteering, etc. Cultivate friends at work, where you live, common interests, etc. Make the effort, it pays!
  • When you go shopping, or even pass people on the street, train yourself to smile at them, even say “good morning” or “good afternoon”! It can lead to mutual laughter and further remarks. Both parties get a lift of mood and the day may just look brighter. Talk to the delivery person, the postman, the barista, the shopkeeper, etc. Talk to your partner more, be considerate and get out of boring routines. Do more activities together. It works.
  • It is never too late. One person late in life was married to a woman that never wanted to go anywhere or discuss anything. He moved out and even though he was introverted and had no close friends, he started going to the gym out of boredom. Someone talked to him. He enjoyed it and started talking to others. They became friends, socialised together and his happiness soared.
  • The study showed that those with good relationships were not only happier but healthier, lived longer and were less likely to get dementia or heart problems, etc. The study was detailed and included brain scans, blood tests, etc.
  • Life is never perfect and stress is unavoidable. But happier people return to normal from the fight or flight mode quicker.

Let’s Have a Conversation:

Had you heard of this lifelong study or is this the first time you read about it? What were/are your initial thoughts? Based on what you learned, would you consider yourself a happy person? What does happiness mean to you? Do you think your present view of happiness is different from how you thought of it when you were younger?

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Great article. My dad used to embarass me as a child because he talked to everybody, everywhere we went. Now I find I do the same thing walking down the street, at the grocery, in the halls at work, etc.

The Author

Campbell Keenan is a retired electrical engineer. His blog,, is about future technology. He writes for older people as most are unaware how quickly technology, particularly AI (Artificial Intelligence) is changing and we must all adjust. He writes also about why physical and mental health is so important as we age.

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