Everyone has their own methods for chasing happiness. Some take a practical approach like following the one-minute rule, others read books, and some heed the advice of neuroscientists. Happiness may be an elusive, fleeting feeling, but an extensive study conducted by Harvard researchers reveals a few trends that may help you live a happier, healthier, and longer life.
The well-known Study of Adult Development followed more than 800 people over the course of their entire lives in order to examine what factors lead to happiness. In fact, it's one of the most in-depth studies of adult development in the world. Data includes three groups of people: a sample of 268 well-off Harvard graduates born around 1920, a sample of 456 disadvantaged inner city men born around 1930, and a sample of 90 middle-class women born around 1910. All of the participants have been studied for six to eight decades, creating a wealth of data on how to live a happy life.
Harvard professor George E. Vaillant, MD, breaks down the findings of this massive study in his book Aging Well, which Business Insider recently combed through to identify six factors that are paramount to happiness over the course of your life. This is how to live a long and happy life, according to Harvard.
Avoid Smoking and Drinking Alcohol
Unsurprisingly, the study found that smoking was the number one single predictive factor of healthy aging. It also determined that drinking too much alcohol can be detrimental to your physical and mental health. While this information is nothing new, it proves that what you put into your body really does have an effect later on.
Pursue an Education
By comparing men from the Harvard student sample and from the inner city sample, researchers found that the pursuit of an education was related to health. Those who attended college were just as healthy at age 70 despite their childhood social class, IQ, income, and prestige of their colleges.
Have a Happy Childhood
While you don't exactly have control over the childhood you had, Harvard researchers found that being loved as a child was indicative of having a high income as an adult. They also found that adapting well during adolescence was a predictor in aging well later on. However, for those who had a difficult childhood, finding a loving spouse or even strong friendships in adulthood helped heal past challenges and lead to a happier life.
Be Emotionally Intelligent
One big factor in how well a person ages is their ability to deal with others. The study found that people with strong emotional intelligence aged well even if they came from a lower social class or didn't have an incredibly high IQ. It's also important to continually create new relationships even as you age. In other words, it's never too late to make new friends and let people into your life.
Cope Well with Problems
Instead of blaming others and being passive-aggressive, handling problems in a mature manner leads to a happier life. The study found that those who reacted immaturely to conflict felt better in the short term but faced long-term consequences. Those who cope with methods like altruism, sublimation, suppression, and humor were more likely to thrive.
Acting as a guide, mentor, or coach in order to help those around you is a key factor in living a long and happy life. Among all three samples of people, researchers found that men and women were six times as likely to be happy and well when they gave back to others compared to those who did not.
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