Happiness is such an integral part of living a fulfilled life. So what is it that brings true happiness to us? It is interesting to see how the answers to this question evolve and change over different generations and different stages of our lives. A recent survey of millenials revealed what their most important life goals were for creating happiness. Fortune and fame were at the top of their lists. As people make it “over the hill”, oftentimes perspectives change in regards to what brings true happiness and what is really important.

A study following two groups of men over the last 75 years is one of the longest and most complete studies examining the underlying driving forces that bring about health and happiness.1 The two different groups of men span the social spectrum with the first group comprising sophomores attending Harvard College and the second, “a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930’s.” As you can imagine, these men represented a full spectrum of society including factory workers, carpenters, doctors, attorneys, and even a president of the United States. The study began with 724 men, of which all but 60 have passed away. These men completed surveys every two years including information about the quality of their marriage, job satisfaction and social involvement. Every five years their physical health was monitored through blood tests, urine tests, echo-cardiograms, and chest x-rays. Interviews were also carried out, not only with the men in the study, but with their families, including their spouses and children.

Dr. Robert Waldinger, psychiatrist and current director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, recently revealed the results of this study that began in 1938 in regards to the key factors that bring about happiness. After collecting and analyzing thousands of pages of data collected over the last seven decades, the researchers determined “the clearest message we get from this study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.” It is interesting to note that when these men entered this study as teenagers, fortune and fame were at the top of their lists for goals needed to fulfill happiness in their lives.

Dr. Waldinger further refined the conclusions from the data collected into three resonating lessons about the importance of relationships creating true happiness in our lives:

  • Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected.”

  • It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.”

  • Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline.”2

It is interesting to note that in the first several decades of life, the majority of people believe that success and happiness will come from fame and fortune. Whether we achieve fame or fortune or not clearly does not guarantee us health and happiness. Your best bet for health and happiness is on building healthy relationships- those with family, friends and your community.