A group of Harvard researchers have spent 75 years producing a comprehensive, true-to-life depiction of some of life’s fundamental questions: how we grow and change, what we value as time goes on, and what is likely to make us happy and fulfilled.
The study, known as the Harvard Grant Study, has some limitations -- it didn’t include women in the beginning, but you have to look at the timeline to understand why. Harvard in those years, was a primarily male school. Women (the wives of those studied) were, however included in the study later on- I digress. The study still provides a tangible glimpse into a subset of humanity, following 268 male Harvard undergraduates from the classes of 1938-1940 (now well into their 90s) for 75 years. And the conclusions are universal. I have highlighted five lessons I took from the Grant Study to apply to your life for greater quality and meaning.
Love Is All You Need
It may seem obvious, but that doesn’t make it any less true: Love is key to a happy and fulfilling life. One of the most important findings of the study is that the only thing that really matters in life is relationships. A man could have a successful career, money and good physical health, but without supportive, loving relationships, he wouldn't be happy.
It’s Not About Money and Power
The Grant Study's findings echoed those of other studies -- that acquiring more money and power doesn't correlate to greater happiness. That’s not to say money or traditional career success don’t matter. But they’re small parts of a much larger picture -- and while they may loom large for us in the moment, they diminish in importance when viewed in the context of a full life.
Regardless of Beginnings, We Can All Become Happier
A man named Godfrey Minot Camille went into the Grant study with fairly bleak prospects for life satisfaction: He had the lowest rating for future stability of all the subjects and he had previously attempted suicide. But at the end of his life, he was one of the happiest. Why? One researcher is quoted as commenting that “He spent his life searching for love.” He obviously ran into failures at some point, thats where you have to plan for productive failure. Experimenting with change doesn't mean you have to stick with everything you do. Figuring out what doesn't work is a huge part of figuring out what does work. Take notes, decide what works, assess yourself and move forward.
Connection is Key
Joy is connection, the more areas in your life you can make connection, the better.The study found strong relationships to be far and away the strongest predictor of life satisfaction. And in terms of career satisfaction, too, feeling connected and properly positioned in one's work was far more important than making money or achieving traditional success.
As life goes on, connections become even more important. The Grant Study provides strong support for the growing body of research that has linked social ties with longevity, lower stress levels and improved overall well-being.
Challenges are Meant to be Overcome
Coping mechanisms -- the capacity to make something from nothing, has a significant effect on social support and overall well-being. Most of our routines and standard reactions are made on autopilot. Analytical thinking and planning is required to measurably change any of our autopilot habits, or coping mechanisms. Triggering cognitive thinking in time to make better choices is a fundamental skill. If you can feel your emotions starting to take over, you have the ability to ask yourself strategic questions and make better choices about what you say or do to better the outcome with your coping mechanism. The secret is replacing a single-minded focus on one's own perceived problems with that of a desire to strengthen connections with others. For example, Mother Teresa was raised in an absolutely terrible childhood, but became very successful and respected by caring for others vastly.
I understand that some things are beyond our control, but utilizing coping mechanisms, personal interaction and support, and a will to achieve will get you much further in life than a hermit sitting on millions. The quality of our physical well-being, the quality of our sleep and our overall productivity in life is hinged on love. Love for each other, ourselves and a love for life. Take a moment to reflect, do what you can to help your fellow man and I know you’ll feel better about it. We all have a calling, and I am living mine every day. Are you?
Link to TED talk-Harvard Grant Study: