Longest study of human development shows what men need to live happy lives

oldtime photo morguefile2If you want to be happy for the rest of your life … Harvard has the answers, at least for men.

Harvard University conducted the longest-running longitudinal study of human development, beginning in 1938 with 268 male undergraduates. Researchers studied an enormous range of psychological, physical and lifestyle traits of  over a 75-year period—everything from IQ to drinking habits, marriages and much more. The men are now in their 90s and have provided intriguing data over the decades.

George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than 30 years, published his findings in the book Triumphs of Experience. The factor Vaillant discovered was most critical, and which he refers to most often, is “the powerful correlation between the warmth of your relationships and health and happiness in later years.”

The quality of relationships and the capacity to form intimate relationships was far more important to wellbeing than dozens of factors, including body type, birth order, social class, or income, the latter of which often receives a vast amount more of our attention in life.

The most important finding from study, according to Vaillant, is this …  “The seventy-five years and twenty million dollars expended on the Grant Study points to a straightforward five-word conclusion:  Happiness is love. Full stop.

Researchers returned to these particular findings from 2009 to 2013 to ensure this importance on relationships was warranted. In further study, Vaillant not only confirmed it, but placed even more importance on warm relationships than previously.

What other factors were important for men to live a happy life?

  1. Alcoholism was found to be the single strongest cause of divorce between the study men and their wives. Alcoholism was also found to be strongly associated with neurosis and depression. Combined with cigarette smoking, alcoholism was the number-one cause of death.
  2. In addition to being linked with improved wellbeing, warm relationships affected income. The 58 men who scored the highest on measurements of warm relationships earned an average of $140,000 a year more during their peak salary years (ages 55 to 60) than the 31 men who scored lowest on this factor.
  3. Memories of a happy childhood were a source of lifelong strength. However, recovery from negative childhoods can and did occur. One loving friend, mentor or relative can have a powerful effect to negate the effects of a difficult childhood.
  4. The men’s relationships with their mothers was significant to their long-term wellbeing. Men with warm childhood relationships with their mother earned more and were more effective at work later in their professional lives. Men with poor childhood maternal relationships were more likely to suffer from dementia in old age.
  5. Men who had warm childhood relationships with their father were associated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment on vacations, and increased life satisfaction at age 75.
  6. The men who did well in old age didn’t necessarily do so well in midlife, and the reverse was also true.
  7. Marriages brought much more contentment after age 70.
  8. How the study participants aged after age 80 was determined much more by habits formed before age 50 than by heredity. (Your habits determine how you age more than your genetics do.)
  9. Persistence, discipline and dependability, combined with capacity for intimacy was a winning combination for happy lives.

The welcome news for old age is that our lives continue to evolve in our later years, and often become more fulfilling than before. If you’d like more details from the study, you can find Triumphs of Experience on Amazon.

Source: “75 Years in the Making

Lori Lowe has been married to her husband, Ming, for 20 years. She is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of Morguefile.com.

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