The latest installment from PBS’ BrainCraft video series introduces us to two scientific studies that teach us a thing or two about what brings us happiness. One set of results comes from Dr. John Gottman’s Family Research Laboratory (a.k.a. the “Love Lab”); the other from the Harvard Grant Study, a 75-year study that has traced the lives and development of 268 Harvard sophomores from the classes of 1939–1944. Although the study focuses on privileged white men (the demographic that attended Harvard College during the 1930s and 40s), the Harvard Grant Study has yielded conclusions that apply to a broader population.
One of the longest-running studies of adult development, the study has found, for example, that alcoholism has some of the most ruinous effects on marriages, family finances and personal health. Likewise, it reveals that liberals have sex much further into old age than their conservative peers.
But those aren’t the big takeaways — the conclusions that talk about happiness. If you watch the interview below with George Vaillant, the longtime director of the study, you will hear him conclude that happiness isn’t about “conforming, keeping up with the Joneses. It is about playing, and working, and loving. And loving is probably the most important. Happiness is love.”
According to Vaillant, “warmth of relationships throughout life have the greatest positive impact on ‘life satisfaction.'” When we have warm relationships with our parents, spouses, friends and family, we experience less daily anxiety and a greater sense of overall pleasure; we have better health (including lower levels of dementia later in life); and we’re more effective at work and make more money.
Essentially The Beatles had it right, “All you need is love. Love is all you need.”
You can read more about the Harvard study over at The Atlantic.