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In the end of the day, every single one of us wants the same thing – fulfillment. A good life in which we get to enjoy this experience of living with love, appreciation, gratitude, comfort and joy.

The only true difference between any two people is the way they try to reach the sense of fulfillment we crave. We each have different upbringings, values, and ideas about what leads to a good life.

But make no mistake – a good life is what we’re all after.

What Keeps Us Happy & Healthy As We Go Through Life?

Grant & Glueck

In a recent survey of millennials asking them what their most important life goals were, over 80% said that one of those goals was to get rich. Another 50% said that a major life goal was to become famous.

For over 75 years, the Grant and Glueck studies have been tracking the physical and emotional well being of two distinct groups of American males.

There was one overall question the study wanted to have answered – What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?

The Grant study was made up of 268 American males, all Harvard graduates in between 1939-1944. The Glueck study was composed of 456 men who grew up poor in Boston’s inner cities.

The goal of the study was to examine whether any psychosocial and biological factors early in life could be identified to predict health and well-being much later in life. Every two years each participant would answer a questionnaire, the researchers would receive information from the participants’ physicians (every 5 years), and many personal interviews were conducted (every 5-10 years).

The questionnaires the men received and responded to consisted of questions regarding physical and mental health, marital quality, career or retirement enjoyment, and many other aspects of their lives.

The study was conducted extremely thoroughly by generations of different researchers (due to the nature of this type of longitudinal research). They wanted to understand what factors led to healthy, long-lasting marriages, and an overall sense of fulfillment throughout life.

Among the many findings that resulted, there is one clear indication of what leads to a “good” life – and it isn’t money or fame (any type of fame social or political).

Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development (of which the Grant and Glueck study is a part):

“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

What’s more telling is that the quantity of relationships is unimportant.

In his famous Ted Talk describing the findings of the study he stated, “It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”

Depth. Feeling love. Importance. Gratitude. Appreciation. These are the factors important in determining the quality of relationship and thus the quality of life.

In what is known as the longest study of adult life ever done, and what is in my eyes the most important research ever conducted, we’ve come up with an answer to the only question that truly matters.

One of the more interesting aspects of the findings was that at the beginning of the study, the participants largely felt that fame, wealth and high achievement were the secrets to living a good life – just like millennials believe today.

Here is what we can really take away from all of the effort that’s gone into answering the question of what leads to a good life. 

  1. Social connections are extremely valuable. People that are socially connected, whether it be to a community, friends or family are simply happier, physically healthier, and they live longer.
  2. Loneliness kills. People who report being chronically lonely live shorter lives, are unhealthier throughout life, and their brain functioning declines quickly in comparison to others.
  3. Loneliness doesn’t refer to whether you’re constantly surrounded by people. It refers to how you feel about your relationships. You can be lonely in a marriage, and you can be lonely as the most famous or popular person in the world. It’s all about how we experience are relationships that counts.
  4. Emotional pain that results from lack of relationship leads to enhanced experience of physical pain later in life. People who were happiest in their 80’s reported that even where they had physical pain, it didn’t necessarily detract from how happy they were. Lonelier people in their 80’s felt a magnified sense of physical pain when they had it.
  5. At retirement age, finding ways to replace work relationships with personal ones leads to stability in happiness.
  6. Good relationships protect our brains. Those people who feel that they could count on someone later in life – whether it be a spouse or friends keeps their memory in tact for longer than those who feel they don’t have a shoulder to lean on.

The magnitude of this research is unfathomable. I hope that anyone who reads this can just take a few minutes to question what they believe is of true importance in their life right now, and whether that vision is blinding them from what’s really important.

“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.

– Mark Twain