What’s the Secret to Being Happy?

Harvard psychiatrist Robert Waldinger leads a study that has tracked hundreds of people over 80 years to see what makes a happy and meaningful life. Here’s what he has learned.

When talking with Robert Waldinger, it is difficult to ignore the fact that he seems extremely content. A side effect of his job, perhaps. As the director of the longest scientific study of happiness ever conducted, it would be rather disappointing if he was anything else. The Harvard Study of Adult Development (HSAD) began in 1938, with 724 participants: 268 undergraduate students at Harvard College and 456 14-year-old boys who had grown up in some of the most disadvantaged neighbourhoods in Boston, Massachusetts.

All were interviewed and given medical exams on joining the study. Throughout their lives, participants had regular brain scans and blood tests and took part in further interviews, as researchers set out to find answers to what makes a happy and meaningful life. More than eight decades later, HSAD has expanded to include three generations and more than 1300 direct descendants of the original participants. Waldinger, who is also a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Psychodynamic Therapy and Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, has co-written The Good Life with the study’s associate director, Marc Schulz, bringing together case studies with the latest psychological research to share what they have learned about how to live a happy life.

Excerpted from New Scientist

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