When it comes down to it, it's all about relationships
Dr. Vaillant headed the Grant Study for more than 42 years, and still consults on it to this day. The man is an intellectual giant with a lifetime dedicated to research, data, and rigorous academic standards. So when asked what he learned from over 40 years leading the Grant Study, his answer was a little unexpected: "The only things that really matter in life are your relationships to other people." Sometime later, when asked again for a key takeaway from the study, Vaillant summed it up in five simple words: "Happiness is love. Full stop."
And if that's not quite Beatles-circa-1967 enough for you, the current study director, Dr. Robert Waldinger, has taken it a step further. In a recent TED Talk, Dr. Waldinger concluded, "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period." So after over 75 years and $25 million spent on these studies, the moral of the story is something you'd find on the bumper sticker of a VW Beetle? Yuuuup.
Not only did participants of both studies who reported having close relationships tend to be happier and healthier, but they also lived longer. Positive relationships were found to have a protective benefit, both physically and mentally, while bad relationships led to earlier physical and mental decline. Positive relationships can actually fend off perceived physical pain. Nightmarish relationships have a way of magnifying the pain. So don't start swiping right just for the hell of it. The studies found that being single is much better for you than being in a bad relationship (so put the phone down!).
If you live in America, there's a good chance that you've felt the pressure to lean in to your career, to be ambitious, to strive for more. These studies say we're leaning in the wrong direction. After studying 75 years of records on over 600 people, Dr. Waldinger has concluded, "those people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community." Full stop. Period. Exclamation point.
Together, these seven factors are your best shot at sticking around for a while, and being happy about it. And if you're thinking you can just get by on being phenomenal at just one or two of these factors, then Grant and Glueck have some bad news for you. Participants who had only three factors at age 50 were three times as likely to be dead at 80 as those with four or more. So you may be the soberest gym bunny on the planet, but if you haven't opened a book or called your sister in a while, all your efforts might be in vain. It's just science. Now go give someone a hug.