The world’s longest study of adult life is being conducted by Harvard. The lives of 724 men have been tracked for 75 years. Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, recently shared these highly insightful findings : .


Outline of study and the key takeaways-

What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life?  If you were going to invest now in your future best self where would you put your time and energy. As per a recent survey, when millennials were asked what their goal was in life they said- “to be rich” and  most of them also said- “to be famous”. 

Achieve more. Push harder and lean into work.  These are put across as the things to go after to have a good life.

We are not able to know for sure what it is that results in happiness and health as our experience is limited, and often, what we remember of our past is coloured by our imagination.

The best way to see what makes people happy would be if we could study people from their teen years to old age to see what keeps them happy.  The longest study did that.  Tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about:


  • their work,

  • their home lives,

  • and, their health

All through this study the researchers had no idea how the lives of these 724 men would turn out.

Luckily for us, the persistence of several generations of these researchers at Harvard has paid off.  We now have loads of data on the lives of the men being studied.  Out of the original 724 men, about 60 are still alive; most of them are in their 90s and still participating in the study.  In fact, more than 2,000 children of these men are now the focus of this study.


The Study

Since 1938, the lives of two groups of men were tracked. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard; they finished college during World War II and went on to serve in the war. The second group belonged to some of Boston’s poorest neighbourhoods, disadvantaged, without hot and cold running water in their homes. 

All these teenagers & their parents were interviewed & given medical exams. They grew up to become many things, one became the president of the US, some climbed the social ladder, few developed schizophrenia, and some hit rock bottom. 

The study used:


  1. Questionnaires

  2. Interviews

  3. Medical reports

  4. Blood reports and brain scans

  5. Talks with family

  6. Recording of the subjects’ personal discussions with their respective spouses

This study resulted in tens of thousands of papers of information; all information with one loud and clear message-


Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

The 3 big lessons about relationships are


  1. Social connections are good for us, and that loneliness kills

  1. People socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier and live longer than people less well connected.

  2. People who are more isolated are not only less happy, but their health declines much earlier in life, also their brain functioning declines, and they live shorter lives.


  1. It’s not the number of friends you have; it’s the quality of your close relationships

  1. Living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health.

  2. High conflict marriages without much affection are worse than divorce.

  3. Warm relationships are protective.

  4. As per the study, those that were the most satisfied in their relationship at age 50 were the happiest people at age 80.

  5. Good, close relationships buffer us from slings of getting old.

  6. Unhappy relationships result in physical pain which is magnified by emotional pain

  1. Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; good relationships protect our brain

  1. Securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective and it helps your memory stay sharper.

  2. Those that can count on their partner in times of need will show good memory and those that cannot rely on their partners show memory decline.

  3. Relationships don’t need to be smooth but despite the arguments the partner should feel that she/he can rely on the other when the going gets tough.



The knowledge that good and close relationships are good for our health and well being is wisdom as old as the hills.  So, why do we ignore it.  Why is it so hard for us to ‘get it’?  It is because we’re human; we want a quick fix.  Relationships are messy, complicated and mean hard work of tending to family and friends.  It’s neither sexy nor glamorous.  It is also lifelong.  It never ends. 

But the knowledge of this study should now make us work harder and keep us at developing and maintaining good relationships.

The happiest ones in the 75-year study, those that were happiest in retirement were ones who worked actively & replaced workmates with new playmates.


Just like the millennials, many in the study believed that fame, wealth and high achievement was what would make them happy. However, time and again, the study has shown that people who fared the best were the ones who leaned in to their relationships, with family, friends, and community.

Here’s what you can do to lean in to relationships in these modern times:

  • Replace screen time with people time

  • Liven up a stale relationship by doing something new together

    • long walks, danc lessons, tai chi, start a hobby

    • weekly date nights

  • Reach out to that family member you haven’t spoken to in years due to old grudges or family feuds

    • set the past free from ill feelings 


Start today and live a happier, healthier and longer life!