Happiness isn’t about conforming, keeping up with the Joneses. It is about playing and working, and loving. And loving is probably the most important. Happiness is love.
Reporting on all aspects of male life, including relationships, politics and religion, coping strategies, and alcohol use (its abuse being by far the greatest disruptor of health and happiness for the study’s subjects), Triumphs of Experience: The Men of the Harvard Grant Study shares a number of surprising findings.
For example, the people who do well in old age did not necessarily do so well in midlife, and vice versa. While the study confirms that recovery from a lousy childhood is possible, memories of a happy childhood are a lifelong source of strength. Marriages bring much more contentment after age 70, and physical aging after 80 is determined less by heredity than by habits formed prior to age 50. The credit for growing old with grace and vitality, it seems, goes more to ourselves than to our stellar genetic makeup.
A scientific study from the Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year study that has traced the lives and development of 268 Harvard sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944
The Harvard Grant study began in 1938 and it followed 268 male undergraduate students for more than 70 years. It planned to track them over their entire lives, so it measured a whole bunch of psychological and physical traits like personality, IQ, and the function of their major organs.
The study was so huge that it had so many findings
Like your financial success is more dependent on the warmth of relationships than intelligence. And cigarette smoking is the single greatest factor that contributed to the men’s death.
George Vaillant, the lead researcher of the study for more than 30 years, when asked what was the single greatest finding from it, he said,
It was the capacity for intimate relationships that predicted flourishing in all aspects of these men’s lives… Happiness is love.
All you need is love–but it doesn’t necessarily mean having a long relationship or marriage with a partner
The study looked at the men’s relationship with their parents and how it affected them over the course of their lives. Men who had a warm relationship with their mother as a child earned an average of $87,000 a year more than men who had an uncaring mothers. And those with an uncaring mother were more likely to develop dementia later in life.
The warmth of the men’s relationships with their fathers was correlated with enjoying vacations more and greater life satisfaction at age 75.
The findings are super interesting; of course, correlation doesn’t equal causation
Another scientific study was held by researcher John Gottman in the 80s, where he asked newlyweds to talk about their relationship while he measured things like their heart rate and how much sweat they produced
He observed two groups, the ‘masters,’ who spoke calmly about their partner and stayed married, and the ‘disasters,’ who eventually broke up.
When the disasters spoke about their partner they were in fight or flight mode. They had a fast heart beat and produced a greater amount of sweat. When they thought about their partner, it was like they were being approached by an ill-tempered sea bass. Of course these people were open to intimate relationships… just the one they were in was a disaster.
From his decades of research, Gottman suggests lasting relationships come down to two basics traits: kindness and generosity
If, like the Harvard Grant study suggests, our relationships with our family are so important to our happiness and life satisfaction, offering more kindness and generosity in those is surely beneficial.
So it seems being open to love is all you need.