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What makes you happy?

What makes you happy?

A study has tracked Harvard graduates over 75 years to find out

May 2nd, 2013 by Daryl Nelson of ConsumerAffairs in News

OK, bring a wise consumer is important but we all know it's not the only thing that makes for a happy and fulfilled life. So, what does? 

To find out, George Vaillant has been analyzing a 75-year study on 268 Harvard students, documenting things like personality traits, physical well-being, IQ, alcohol consumption and overall style of living.

Known as the Grant Study, its subjects included President John F. Kennedy, four people who ran for the U.S. Senate, and one who served in a Presidential Cabinet.

One of the biggest contributors to living a full happy life, the study ha found, is how well the men maintained their relationships. And there was a definite correlation between how much money the men earned and how healthy their relationships were.

There were 58 men in the study who scored highest in the area of "warm relationships." They earned $141,000 more than the 31 who scored lowest in this area. In addition, the study shows the men earned their highest salaries between the ages of 55 and 60.

Mom and dad

The relationship that most contributed to a healthy and happy life, according to the study, was the one between the men and their mothers.

The study shows that men who didn't get along with their mothers had a higher chance of developing dementia in old age, while the men who had a strong bond with Mom earned $87,000 more than those who didn't.

There also was a correlation between the relationships men had with their fathers and their level of happiness.

Those who got along well with Dad had lower rates of anxiety than those who didn't. They enjoyed their time away from work more too. In addition, these men said they had more overall satisfaction in their lives once they reached 75 years of age.

Demon rum

Moreover, Vaillant learned that alcohol led to all kinds of problems and caused things like depression and neurosis. Along with smoking cigarettes, alcohol was the leading cause of dying prematurely.

"Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power," said Vaillant. In fact, not abusing alcohol was one of the seven major factors to living a full and happy life, the study shows.

The other six factors were: education, having a stable marriage, maintaining a healthy weight, not smoking, getting regular exercise and changing some of habits as you get older.

Healthy mind, healthy body

Vaillant says people have to make sure they're living in a healthy way -- both mentally and physically. 

"So when we talk about well-being, we're talking about two facets, not just one," he said in a published interview.  For example, "alcohol abuse is bad for emotional and physical well-being. Smoking is only bad for physical well-being."

In an interview with The Atlantic, Vaillant says people need to constantly put in the effort to be happy, and not just wait for happiness to fall out of the sky.

"Try being funny," he said. "Try to make yourself fall in love. Try making yourself forgive someone. Studies have even shown that forgiveness is tremendously helpful to the heart and peace of mind. You can put yourself in positions where positive emotions are likely."

And although reminiscing about the days of your youth is okay, thinking about it too much can lead to unhappiness, Vaillant says. "The take-home lesson is to enjoy where you are now. It's alright that young people can do the things that they can do."

Don't worry, be happy

Vaillant cautions people in their 20s and 30s against worrying about being successful, noting that many people in the study did exactly that.

"We have all this health and all this youth and you're scared stiff that when it's all said and done, you're not going to amount to a hill of beans,"Â he said. "And if you just wait, virtually all of the men, by the time they were 45 or 50, amounted to something. Knowing that is such a relief and you just don't know it at 30."

The last thing you want to do is attempt to keep up with the Joneses, said Vaillant, because it'll never get you anywhere.

"The job isn't conforming. It isn't keeping up with the Joneses. It is playing and working and loving. And loving is probably the most important. Happiness is love. Full stop," he said.