72 Years of Happiness

Posted on Friday, June 12th, 02009 by Alexander Rose - Twitter: @zander
link Categories: Long Term Science   chat 0 Comments

This month some results were published from the now 72 year long Happiness Study at Harvard of 268 wealthy and priveleged men.  NPR also ran a story on this recently with interviews of the case researchers.  What was most striking to me is that in all cases, the money and success were not indicators of happiness.  It was having good relationships with other people that was the universal key.  Here is a synopsis from the longer Atlantic article on the study.

Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age. Here, for the first time, a journalist gains access to the archive of one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history. Its contents, as much literature as science, offer profound insight into the human condition—and into the brilliant, complex mind of the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant.

  • Rowland

    I hate to play the devil’s advocate, but the anthropologist in me is practically conditioned to question the value of what in the end is a rather specific study … “men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age.” Id like to see some sort of socioeconomic data, race/ethnicity/religion, ect … but still, just the unique experiences of that era are enough in my mind to bias this study. They are called the Greatest Generation for a reason … and their chrildren complained of a generation gap for a reason. We live in a totally different world than they did, almost a whole new reality. Can we honestly say, in our soft, luxurious, easy modern world, that what makes us happy is the same as what makes a person who lived through the incredibly humbling experiences of the great depression and world war two, and then the post-war prosperity of the 50’s … in fact, isnt that what the 60’s was all about? (and i just dont have the patience to get into the issue of the definition of “happiness,” ephermal, obtuse, highly individual and conceptual …)

  • Steve

    Rowland, did you get a chance to read the Atlantic article? It is fascinating to me. I realize that longitudinal studies may complicate analysis of the results, but it is very worthwhile data nonetheless, at least to this reader.

  • Davide Bocelli

    I think that there is a difference between data and human bios. Both are precious. From this longitudinal study we have both data carefully collected during many years but also – and most precious – stories of unique and very different humans like us. And in the future, if we will be able to take long term studies seriously, we could have deeper knowledge and compare many series of longitudinal studies to see what happens during human history (and we’ll experience how good is to make longitudinal studies and long term data preservation). In my humble opinion, this seems to be a promising beginning.


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