“It wasn’t their middle-aged cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.” — Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, speaking at TEDx about the 75-year Harvard Study.
In the late 1930s, a team of researchers at Harvard University started following two groups of men with a view to learning about how we develop as we grow older, and what leads to health and happiness. The study included a group of 268 Harvard sophomores and another group of 456 boys who were growing up in inner-city Boston. Every two years, the researchers checked in with both groups to ask about the mens’ lives — work, goals and challenges, relationships and social activities. They visited their homes, talked to their families and every five years, conducted medical tests including, in more recent years, brain scans.
Seventy-five years later, the Harvard Study is ongoing and has yielded clues as to what helps us stay happy and healthy both physically and cognitively as we age. In a recent TEDxBeaconStreet talk, the study’s current director, Robert Waldinger — a psychiatrist, psychoanalyst and Harvard Medical School professor — describes what the researchers have discovered.