Tuesday, January 10, 2017

What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.


I'm gonna reproduce the excerpts from one of Robert Waldinger's interactive sessions(TED Talk) with an audience. Bob is a Psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and Zen priest and above all, the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.

TED is a non partisan, non profit organisation devoted to spreading ideas, usually in the form of short, powerful talks. It began in 1984 as a conference when Technology, Entertainment and Design converged and today, covers almost all topics in more than 110 languages!

The Methodology of Research

TED talk released the results of studies, on what makes people happy and healthy as they go through their lives, in Nov '15. It's based on a 75 year long study by the Harvard University researchers - from World War II times, that is - and covered 724 men, from their childhood to their 90s. Their lives were tracked year after year, asking about their work, their personal lives, their health without knowing - naturally - how their life stories were gonna turn out to be. 60 of them still participate in the study. Robert Waldinger is the fourth director of the research!

They've now widened the coverage to about 2,000 children.

And The Lessons Learnt

There were three big lessons that were learnt in the course of the study that underscores the factors contributing to a good life.

 (a) The first lesson.

       Social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills. The people who are more
       socially connected to family , friends and community are happier. They're physically healthier
       and live longer than people who're less well connected because the experience of loneliness
       turns out to be toxic. Their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines
       sooner and they live shorter lives.

  (b) The second lesson.

        It's not just the number of friends that 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 matter. A good 
        relationship begets happiness and one yearns for such a state of perpetual harmony. For 
        example, living in the midst of conflict is really bad for health and a high conflict marriage
        is worse than getting divorced.

The study further amplifies, "After following our men all the way into their 80s, we looked back at them at midlife. It wasn't their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they're going to grow into healthy, happy octogenarians. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The most satisfied at 50s were the healthiest at 80s. Their moods stayed happy despite pains. Physical pain magnified by more emotional pain was a constant factor for those in unhappy relationships!"

   (c) The third lesson.

         Good relationships not only protect our bodies but also our brains. The feeling of attachment
         comes in relationships when one really feels that one can count on the other person, in times
         of need. Their memories stay sharper unlike the others, who do not have this luxury and they
         go into early memory decline! 


Finally, it's not the number of years that you live that matters but it's the number of years that you lived happily is what, that matters!

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