Mind

Four main learnings from the longest ever study on human happiness

Researcher and psychiatrist Robert Waldinger on living a happy life.

key to happiness
The longest running study on human happiness has revealed some key takeaways about what makes like the best it can be.
In the Harvard Study of Adult Development, 724 men were looked at for a whopping 78 years, to assess how they mental and physical health changed over time, in relation to the rest of their life.
As a results, researchers were able to track choices and circumstances that had the biggest affect on people's lives.
Now, principal investigator on the study, Robert Waldinger, has revealed four key findings from the long-running research.
While the big takeaways are perhaps unsurprising - good relationships are the key to happiness, and loneliness kills - there are other findings that have not previously been realised.
A happy childhood was found to have extremely long-lasting effects, and participants who had good familial relationships growing up tended to have happier relationships in adulthood. Those who had a strong bond with at least one sibling also tended to be less depressed by age 50.
However it wasn't all bad news for those who suffered traumatic or simply chaotic childhoods. These people were able to make up for a bad childhood by midlife (age 50-65) so long as they took part in generativity - taking some responsibility for guiding the next generation. And this isn't confined to their own children. It extended to mentoring young people at work or in the community, too.
Learning to cope well with stress was found to have a lifelong pay off, especially for those who used one of three adaptive coping methods: sublimation, alturism or suppression. In contrast, using denial, acting out or projection tended to impact life negatively. People who used adaptive coping mechanisms had more social support, were healthier for longer, and had sharper brains.
Finally, time with others was found to have a protective effect against the bruises of life. Looking back at their lives, participants said their time with others was the most meaningful, and proudest moments. Time spent with a partner seemed to have the biggest buffer against mood dips that come with ageing.
While Waldinger has been critical of the sample used in this study (it was all white males), he says researchers are now focused on a split group of men and women to look further into this area.
Read more on the study over at TED.