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Review of The Good Life and How to Live It

Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness by Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz

The authors of this book (published in 2023) are the current programme directors of a Harvard research project that has been ongoing for an impressive 84 years. It has followed the lives of diverse participants, from their early teens through their senior years, incorporating a second generation along the way – all in a quest to deliver what the title of the book promises.

They aren’t, however, promising a shortcut to euphoria, and the authors do clarify that they are referring to eudaimonic happiness, which is “a state of deep well-being in which a person feels that their life has meaning and purpose” despite the inevitable disappointments, trauma and loss that we all experience over a lifetime.

It all comes down to relationships; other studies over the years also back up the data from the Harvard Study, i.e., quality relationships play a pivotal role in supporting our health and happiness. The Harvard Study participants who fared best in terms of happiness had strong relationships and were in better mental and physical shape into their 80s. Quality of and satisfaction with your relationships count and provide ‘armour’ when life delivers hard knocks.

The message is that all relationships – spanning spouses, family, colleagues, and friends – need effort towards embracing openness, offering and asking for support, facing into challenges, taking time to pause and understand emotions and situations better, paying attention (especially to long-term relationships that have shifted into autopilot) and showing genuine curiosity. Even interacting with a stranger can boost mood and open up opportunities. Loss of friends following retirement is quite common, and the authors encourage being purposeful about maintaining and creating social connections as life progresses.

The book provides some mini-Harvard-Study tools to gauge your ‘Social Fitness’ and plot your ‘Social Universe’, as well as a ‘W.I.S.E.R.’ model for dealing with challenging relationship events. Several life stories and comparisons among individuals who have participated in the Harvard project are included and add the human element to the research data.

A copy of The Good Life and How to Live It – Lessons from the World’s Longest Study on Happiness is available for short-term loan from our Chartered Client Library.

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