The pursuit of happiness: Harvard's groundbreaking study

Do you claim to know the secret of a happy and fulfilling life? If so, these seven unconventional truths from an 85-year-long study might challenge your perception of happiness.

The pursuit of happiness: Harvard's groundbreaking study

Saturday December 02, 2023,

5 min Read

Do you wonder what is the secret of a happy and fulfilling life? Well, this question is not a new one. The quest for a happy and fulfilling life has been a perennial concern for humanity, transcending time and culture. From ancient philosophers to contemporary thinkers, the pursuit of happiness has always been at the forefront of human introspection. 

Fortunately enough, Harvard University conducted a study spanning 85 years to uncover the secrets behind true happiness. In this article, we will take you through the fascinating findings of this study and reveal the seven unconventional truths about happiness. So, be prepared to discover some of the eye-opening truths that might challenge your current perception of happiness.

What is Harvard’s 85-year study of happiness about?

Harvard’s 85-year study of happiness is also known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development. It is directed by Robert Waldinger, who is the fourth director. This study, started in 1938, is still ongoing after 75 years. In this study the researchers tracked the physical and emotional well-being from youth to old age of 724 participants and more than 2000 of their descendants from all over the world at two-year intervals. Around 60 of the original group are alive today in their nineties and still participating in the study.

The study has revealed some unconventional truths that might just change the way you think about happiness. So, what are these seven brutal realities Harvard’s 85-year study of happiness has unveiled? 

7 unconventional findings from the study

The quality of a relationship matters more than you think

It might not be the only thing that matters, but time and time again it is proved to be the biggest factor. Imagine being 75 or 80 years old, reflecting on your life. What would you appreciate the most? Would it be material possessions and career achievements or supportive, and loving quality relationships? 

It might seem irrational if you are in your 20s dreaming of winning the world and see investing time in building relationships as a mere speed breaker to your success. But surprisingly, Harvard’s extensive study on happiness reveals that the quality of our relationships significantly impacts our happiness. It’s not about the number of friends, but rather the depth and authenticity of these connections. Cultivating meaningful relationships might take time and effort but the rewards are immeasurable.

What about money?

Well, there is no doubt that money has an impact on your happiness, but only up to a point. Yes, contrary to popular belief the study found that wealth and happiness are not directly correlated. In fact, it is better to see money as a tool to provide a sense of security, comfort, and control over your life by giving you the liberty to make decisions for yourself. But it can never guarantee to buy you a long-lasting joy, and seeing money as a solution to all your problems will create more problems. Hence, trying to find the meaning and purpose of our lives is what truly matters for lasting happiness.

It’s never too late to be happy

Are you one of those who imagines a grumpy, always angry and sad face, when hear the word old? If so, then this study might surprise you. 50s, 60s, 70s, it doesn’t matter. The study showed that individuals who maintain strong relationships and engage in activities that bring them joy reported overhauling happiness as they age. So, if you think it’s too late to be happy. Think again.

Loneliness can kill you

It is important to understand that loneliness is different from solitude, which is a positive word as there is a sense of choice involved. On the other hand, loneliness is not merely a fleeting feeling of emptiness it can lead to chronic stress, which has a similar effect on our health if we smoke half a packet of cigarettes per day. It’s a slow poison that can creep into your life if left unchecked. 

However, remember that you can be alone in a crowd too, what matters the most is the quality of a relationship.

Kindness wins happiness

It might come as a surprise to a few but one of the profound findings of the study suggests that generosity and acts of kindness contribute significantly to our happiness. We all love getting help and gifts from others, right? But the feeling of fulfilment we get after helping others is more long-lasting. This act of kindness can be anything as simple as volunteering, donating, or just being there for someone in need.

Health is wealth

“A healthy man wants a thousand things - a sick man wants only one.” 

The people in good health showed higher levels of happiness and satisfaction from life as compared to the unhealthy ones. The study emphasises the importance of taking care of our physical and mental health. Hence, regular exercise and a balanced diet are essential for overall well-being and happiness. So, it’s high time you prioritise self-care over anything.

Social media- A double-edged sword

Where connection leads to happiness, comparison kills it mercilessly. Social media allows you to do both simultaneously. There is no doubt that platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow you to stay connected with your friends and family but Harvard’s study reveals the darker side of it i.e. the constant comparisons with others, which give rise to negative feelings like insecurity and loneliness. Hence, it becomes extremely crucial that we use it consciously. Our focus should solely be on making genuine connections and not doomscrolling.


These unconventional truths about happiness from Harvard’s 85-year happiness study can be a chance to change your perception and embrace these insights so you can take proactive steps towards a happy and satisfied life. It is the time to face the challenges, create meaningful relationships, and prioritise self-care to discover the true happiness that lies within you.

Remember, happiness is not a destination to strive for, but a journey to enjoy.

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