A multi-generational group of researchers have published the results of an 80-year-long study tracking the lives nearly 2,000 Americans. The study looked to answer an eternal question that has had philosophers, theologians and scientists consumed with curiosity: what is the secret to happiness?
The Company You Keep
IFLScience writes that the study was handled by “a team of scientists at Harvard University” that discovered, thanks to evolving medical research and technology, the key to happiness was the development and maintenance of strong relationships with other people.
“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, during a TED Talk.
— Tali Santos (@talisantosa) May 9, 2017
“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” George Vaillant, a psychiatrist who led the team from 1972 to 2004, explained. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
Started in 1938, the Harvard Second Generation Study tracked “the lives and health of 268 (all male) Harvard sophomores – including future Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee and future US president John F. Kennedy. In the years since, the number of recruits has expanded to include their wives, 456 Boston inner-city residents and their wives, and 1,300 of the Harvard students’ progeny, who will now be in their 50s and 60s. The intention with the latter was to explore the ways life’s early experiences affect a person’s health later in life.”
In the beginning, researchers believed that gifts of elitism such as “wealth, genetics, social class, and IQ” were the guarantors of happiness. Subjects were given periodic questionnaires, interviews and had their medical records analyzed. IFL Science writes that “scientists also (bizarrely) collected info on the participants’ brow bridges, moles, and handwriting.” As advances in medical technology were made, the study would utilize DNA testing and MRI scans.
Strong relationships being the key to happiness would have, noted IFL Science, shocked the progenitors of the study.
— Shelley Bonanno, MA (@ShelleyBonanno) March 5, 2017
“Taking care of your body is important but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation,” Waldinger exclaimed.
“Take care of your body as though you were going to need it for 100 years, because you might,” noted Waldinger.
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