The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness

Image of The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness
Release Date: 
January 10, 2023
Simon & Schuster
Reviewed by: 

“insightful and inspiring and will remind you why relationships matter so much in our lives.”

If you want to lead a happier life, pick up The Good Life by Drs. Waldinger and Schulz. It will guide you through the findings of “the world’s longest scientific study of happiness,” providing you with insight into how relationships improve our overall wellbeing.

We are often given both subtle and explicit messages that our happiness is exterior to us, out of reach. If we get the right income, car, home, or vacation, we’ll be happy. However, research shows that relationships are the real key to happiness. What we need to be happier, to feel more connected and fulfilled, is an internal experience we gain through connection to others.

Of course, this is an oversimplification of the research. Lives are complicated. Even happy lives are filled with experiences of pain, upset, betrayal, grief, and loss. Yet a “good” and joyful life can unfold, if we are surrounded in hard times by people who care. In fact, it may be the juxtaposition of contentment against pain that helps carry us.

What sets the Harvard Study of Adult Development apart from other studies is not just its duration. Impressively, this longitudinal study began in 1938 and continues to this day. Rather, instead of looking at what makes people sick, the Harvard Study looks at what makes people thrive. The short answer is humans thrive through quality relationships.

The researchers call relationships the “investment of a lifetime.” In fact, they go so far as to say, “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.” The book provides support for that claim.

While romantic relationships are certainly important, and that may be the first kind of relationship the reader thinks of, the research is clear that all types of supportive relationships improve our lives. Friendships especially can aid our overall happiness.

How do we build warm relationships? The book indicates it’s the choices we make to cultivate the relationships we need to have fulfilling lives. Our choices of where to put our time and how to act toward others matters, especially if we choose to emphasize connection above other attractive options.

Relationships are not only a means to an end, the way to get us through rough times, but they are their own reward. Relationships are central to our daily experience and are therefore worthy of emphasis in and of themselves.

One of the ways that we can improve our relationships is through self-reflection. The book guides the reader through this process. People often begin this kind of self-reflection on their own during midlife, as they feel they are stagnating, but it can be done at any time to improve the quality of our choices with regard to relationships.

A point that perhaps was not made strongly enough, but definitely deserves attention, is that when we ask ourselves, “Is this all there is?” the answer is genuinely, “No. There’s more.” Once we start looking inward, we can shift from self-centered decision making toward a more outward-looking, generous way of being. This shift will improve our relationships.

Too much self-focus is one of the reasons our relationships can suffer. If we care more about our personal needs and desires than about the growth of our relationships, we can make decisions that harm our connection with others. Cultivating an outward focus is a crucial part of cultivating good relationships that support us throughout our lives.

The book suggests that we think of relationships in broad terms. If you sit beside someone on a train, why not strike up a conversation? This, too, is a relationship that might just brighten your day. Learning about a stranger, being kind to the barista, or saying something encouraging to someone as you walk by all improve our ability to be in relationship and can sometimes have immediate positive results.

The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness is a wonderful book that will encourage you to find simple ways to create stronger bonds with those you love, and meaningful interactions in your everyday life. It’s also a great book to share with teens and young adults who may not yet have the life skills or experience to value relationships the way they would like.

Pick this book up today. It’s insightful and inspiring and will remind you why relationships matter so much in our lives.