Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness

In this podcast (episode #495) and blog, I talk to best-selling author, psychiatrist, Zen master and Harvard researcher Dr. Robert Waldinger about what science tells us about human happiness, creating a fulfilling and happy life, the importance of “social fitness”, what we get wrong about achievement, the power of deep, meaningful relationships, and so much more!

As Dr. Waldinger and his colleague Dr. Marc Shultz note in their incredible new book, The Good Life, relationships are the key to a fulfilling and meaningful life. The stronger our relationships, the more likely we are to live happy, satisfying, and healthier lives.  

The decades-long research from the Harvard Study of Adult Development (which began in 1938 and has now studied 3 generations of families across 85 years) reveals that “the strength of our connections with others can predict the health of both our bodies and our brains as we go through life. Relationships in all their forms—friendships, romantic partnerships, families, coworkers, tennis partners, book club members, Bible study groups—all contribute to a happier, healthier life.” 

This is something we should teach our children from youth. So many good things happen when we teach our children about the importance of relationships, as few things affect our lives more than the quality of our connections to others.  

But, thankfully, as The Good Life shows, it’s never too late to strengthen the relationships we already have, and never too late to build new ones. This book provides many examples of how to do this, and is an invaluable tool in everyone’s mental wellbeing life kit! 

A key part of this process is embracing the examined life. As Dr. Robert points out in his book, we are not always the experts on our own lives. When we accept that we may not have all the answers, we step into the realm of possibility. We can see what is missing in our lives and identify what we need to pursue more of to live the “good life”. The process opens us up to embracing the unknown and standing strong in the midst of uncertainty. If we are really sure we know everything, we close ourselves off to learning and (surprise!) relationships and growth, which can impact our healing and keep us trapped in the past. 

Another important aspect of human happiness and the “good life” is how we deal with adversity, which also is related to how connected we are to the people in our lives. Dr. Robert and his team found that how resilient we are and how we manage trauma also depends, in a large part, on our relationships. The more deep, meaningful social connections we have, the more we are able to heal from and manage trauma because we have a strong support system in place. Relationships don’t just make us happier; they buffer the unhappy times as well. 

It is important to remember that there are infinite paths through life. As Dr. Robert has seen in his own research, there are so many ways to live a good and meaningful life; there is no “one way.” Life is full of possibility, which means there are infinite ways to be happy. We all get to define our own path and write our own story.  

The key to defining our own path to happiness is being able to live an authentic life. This means building relationships with other people who accept us for who we are. The core part of a good relationship, and thus a core part of living the good life, means having meaningful connections with people that not only allow you to be your authentic self but also encourage you to embrace who you are and define your own identity. 

Getting promoted, finding success at school or work, and making lots of money are not direct pathways to happiness. There are many people who have these things that are unhappy, and many people who do not have these things that are happy. Even though getting our basic needs met are an important part of the good life, these things are not relevant to being and staying happy. 

For more on happiness and relationships, listen to my podcast with Dr. Robert (episode #495) and check out his amazing book, work and TED talk. If you enjoy listening to my podcast, please consider leaving a 5-star review and subscribing. And keep sharing episodes with friends and family and on social media. (Don’t forget to tag me so I can see your posts!).      

Preorder my new book How to Help Your Child Clean Up Their Mental Mess before August 7th, 2023 to receive exclusive bonuses, including access to a 1-hour webinar + Q&A session on back-to-school tips and strategies to help your child mentally prepare for the year ahead! You can preorder here.     

This podcast is sponsored by:    

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Podcast Highlights

2:17 Dr. Robert’s incredible research & career 

4:35 Why the Harvard Study of Adult Development is so important  

9:22, 23:10 The power of the examined life

13:47, 16:18 Relationships are the key to happiness!  

18:50 Why we should teach our children about relationships in school 

20:30 The power of deep, meaningful connections  

21:30 Adversity, relationships & happiness 

31:26 How Dr. Robert’s research has impacted his own life 

32:00, 36:00 There is no one way to live the good life 

34:00 Money & success does not equal happiness  

37:25 The power of living an authentic life  

38:40 Mental health in our world today  

45:53 It is never too late to be happy! 

50:00 You can live alone & still be happy

Switch On Your Brain LLC. is providing this podcast as a public service. Reference to any specific viewpoint or entity does not constitute an endorsement or recommendation by our organization. The views expressed by guests are their own and their appearance on the program does not imply an endorsement of them or any entity they represent. If you have any questions about this disclaimer, please contact info@drleaf.com.   

This podcast and blog are for educational purposes only and are not intended as medical advice. We always encourage each person to make the decision that seems best for their situation with the guidance of a medical professional. 

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