This 80-year-old study was (and still is) conducted to predict happiness in later life.

What if you were asked, “what is happiness?” Any answers? That’s not an easy question to easily pin down. Its one of those questions that science just can’t answer — or at the very least, that’s what we think. However, a group of Harvard researchers since the late 1930s till date have been trying to answer that same question with a study that sought to analyze the overall happiness of several American men. Yeah, that’s really a long ass time.

Related media: How To Be Happy

Once Upon A Study

Dear friends, welcome to the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This is actually the combination of two separate studies: The Grant study, which recruited and analyzed 268 Harvard male grads from the classes of 1939 – 1944; and The Gluck study, which also recruited and analyzed another 456 males who were raised in the heart of Boston, Massachusetts. The purpose? In attempts to unravel what are the social, biological, and personal factors that best predict happiness in later life.

Over the course of eight decades, the 700 plus participants of the study kept in touch with the researchers through a series of regularly scheduled check-ins. For every two years, the participants were (and are) asked to complete a questionnaire about their physical and mental health, their marriage, their career, and eventually, their retirement. For every five years, they submit their health information; and for every five to ten years, a selected few get an in-depth interview about their overall happiness and their state of livelihood.

(That sounds really boring; staying in touch with your teachers after graduation, duh!)

So What Is Happiness?

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In five simple words, all that data can be boiled down to five words: “Happiness is love. Full stop.” The words of George Vaillant, the study’s longtime director. That’s true: that was the only variable that predicted happiness in later life than anything else — the number of so-called “warm relationships” the participants had.

That was even true throughout their life. The study has found that participants who were close to their mothers — and had a warm relationship — in their childhood, earn an average of $87,000 each year than others; and participants who were close to their fathers earn much more, and showed a higher satisfaction in later life. But it was actually relationships from around age 47 that proved to be the best predictors of happiness in the 1980s and 90s.

The Babies Came; And The Study Goes On…

After all that long ass time study, a whole generation has nearly passed since the first study began; most of the surviving participants are all centenarians by now, or passed on. The study has switched attention on the next generation. The 2nd generation study has a similar 70-year mission ahead, another long ass study of the children and step-children of the participants from the original study. It seems these participants are starting late on the study, but their own would give a more comprehensive account about happiness in the modern world.

The correlation of happiness to your personal relationship is one thing; the study has now included more remote factors — such as your parents’ happiness and the strength of their relationships. We could agree that our happiness grows when we’re all closely connected; in other words, your happiness has more in common with the happiness of others, too.

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Written by: Nana Kwadwo, Sat, May 04, 2019.


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