What Makes Us Happy? Life lessons from 268 Harvard grads followed for 72 years.

Case No. 218

How’s this for the good life? You’re rich, and you made the dough yourself. You’re well into your 80s, and have spent hardly a day in the hospital. Your wife had a cancer scare, but she’s recovered and by your side, just as she’s been for more than 60 years. Asked to rate the marriage on a scale of 1 to 9, where 1 is perfectly miserable and 9 is perfectly happy, you circle the highest number. You’ve got two good kids, grandkids too. A survey asks you: “If you had your life to live over again, what problem, if any, would you have sought help for and to whom would you have gone?” “Probably I am fooling myself,” you write, “but I don’t think I would want to change anything.” If only we could take what you’ve done, reduce it to a set of rules, and apply it systematically.


Case No. 47

You literally fell down drunk and died. Not quite what the study had in mind.

In 1937, 268 well-adjusted Harvard sophomores were selected for a study by the Harvard Study of Adult Development. For the first time, the results have been published by the Atlantic and in a new book by the study's author, Dr. George Vaillant.

The takehome lesson: Enjoy where you are now. --Dr. George Vaillant

By the time these men turned 50, virtually all of them turned out to be something... and most people didn't know what they would be at even 30. One of them was actually John F. Kennedy (though his files are sealed until 2040). Success would come to them, but throughout their younger years there was an anticipation and anxiety of what they were to be. I feel that too. We all do. But perhaps the anxiety is unnecessary. This study certainly suggests so.