What Makes Us Happy?

6765938509_def6a0e433_nA few weeks ago Jeff asked “What does it mean to be happy?” Today I’d like to ask a related question – what makes us happy? – and find an answer in an unusual source.

Seventy-five years ago, in 1938, a group of scientists at Harvard University began a study of more than 250 young men. The goal of the study, called the Grant Study, was to try to discover what factors (something that causes or influences a situation) contribute to (help make something happen), or keep people from, becoming and enjoying life as healthy adults.

The study continues today even though many of the men have died and those who are still alive are in their late 80s or early 90s. For all those years, these men have had regular medical examinations, taken psychological tests, filled out questionnaires, and sat for interviews. The Grant Study is one of the longest-running and most complete studies of mental and physical health in history.

Last year, Dr. George Vaillant, who directed the study for more than 40 years, wrote a book called Triumphs of Experience. In it he documents (reports) what it is like to flourish (do well) later in life.

According to Vaillant, relationships matter the most (are the most important). There is a strong correlation (connection) between the quality of all your relationships and your health and happiness as you get older. This is especially true of your relationships with your parents. The warmth (affection, kindness, love) of your relationship with your mother matters well into adulthood and affects many areas of life. And the warmth of your relationship with your father becomes more important as you grow older. For example, a warm relationship with your father helps reduce anxiety (the feeling of being worried) and contributes to increased satisfaction with life even when you’re 75 years old.

Vaillant reports that the habits we develop before we’re 50 and how we respond, or react, to the experiences we have as we mature (become adults) help determine our success and satisfaction as we grow older. Some of the greatest triumphs (victories or achievements) in the study were enjoyed by people who experienced the greatest difficulties. What we do when we face (experience) pain, conflict, or uncertainty, says Valliant, is more important than avoiding them. In the study, those who responded positively and creatively to life’s difficulties were able to turn those difficulties into triumphs.

The most destructive (damaging) factor uncovered in the study was excessive (too much) drinking. It was the main cause of divorce, contributed to depression and mental problems, and, along with cigarette smoking, often led to early death.

Now, what about happiness? The study doesn’t define happiness, but it’s easy to infer (form an opinion from available information) a meaning of pleasure, satisfaction, or contentment. The study reveals a strong connection between the warmth of your relationships and health and happiness as you grow older. When asked what he had learned from the Grant Study, Vaillant replied that “the only thing that matters in life are your relationships to other people … Happiness is love.”

~ Warren Ediger – English tutor/coach and creator of the Successful English web site.

Photo by SalFalko used under Creative Commons license.





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23 Responses to What Makes Us Happy?

  1. emiliano says:

    Warren, I have read always your notes with great interest, you know that, and this one is again as good as usual.
    Till the end I have read about the Grant Study anxious to see what is said at the end…..and:

    Yes, the end is so right to me “Happiness is Love” that I can´t be more in agreement with the long long study.
    Along my life friendship and good relations with my friends, men or women, have been something like the first
    more valuable in life. Also a nice good relations with my mother and father till their end. Still now every day
    of my life I remember them both. They gave me the best they could.

    For more than fourty years I have felt myself loved by my dear Cuca, and this feeling has been always fundamental
    to give me self-security and strenght day after day. So, yes “the only thing that matters in life are your relationships
    to other people … Happiness is love.”.
    I don´t smoke, never I have done that, I don´t drink a drop of alcohol for more than 20 years as it is very bad for
    my liver and to be honest only once I have been drunk when I was 22 years old. Then I sweard to myself it will
    be the last time, once and enough, ja,ja,. So Cuca never have seen me drunk, a serious man for all means.

    Along these months one of my first friends, Camila, is fighting for her life and we are very, very affected as she is
    to Cuca and me one of the best persons ever we meet. She was a fellow and friend from the Bank since year 1992
    and we really love each other very much. It is so hard the idea of losing her that I don´t know what to say more.

    My best dear Warren.

  2. Lassana says:

    Hi Everybody,

    Thanks to Warren for this very interesting topic.

    I think this study reveals many things very important to understood these factor which make us happy.

    I believe that happiness is a state of mind, I don’t know if I can say it like that, because it is a french expression.

    I quite agree with Dr. George Vaillant when he say the relationships and love are the strongest feel to make someone in Happiness.

    For my part, my wife, my daughter, my parents, my brothers and sisters and all my family and friends contribute to make me feel the happiest man in the world.

    See you soon.

  3. sara says:

    yes “happiness is love”,thanks Dear Warren.

  4. Dan says:

    Hi everyone.

    Something that made me, well not really happy but proud of what WE have achieved so far, is looking at astronaut Chris Hadfield singing his version of Space Oddity
    from the International Space Station.

    Thank you Commander of expedition 35, and your crew too.

    If you guys haven’t seen it yet, just go and see it on Youtube.

    Unfortunately, while listening this beautiful song, and looking at the background of the planet from the Cupola, it is sad to think about certain situations going on down there.

    Thank you guys

  5. Peter says:

    My dear professor Warren,
    In a sense , The research may be true ,but to my best of knowledge , happiness is an state of mind. It is an abstract idea. it is a point of view . it is subjective to the degree that its concept may vary from one individual to another.
    All I m saying is there are surely some outside and inside factors that influence individual’s perception of a joyful life.
    As far as I understand , The study emphasizes that family relations play a big role on having a joyous life and that it will guaranty welfare later in life. Well, don’t you think one’s upbringing is a decisive factor here,or if he /she is from a broken home , or if he/she has had an abusive mother , or father.
    Don’t you think those people look for a fulfilling life far far away from family and everything it stands by.

    People are from different walk of life which means they experience life differently. In other words , What they go through in life makes them who they are , shapes their values , and defines their sense of good and bad. And , eventually the values they hang on to frames a distinctive image of happiness that gets a different shape from one individual to another.
    For some the image could be a strong bond with their father ;whereas , for some others it could be the binding with a bottle of hootch :))))

    Yours 🙂

  6. emiliano says:

    I can´t conceive life without friends, it has been a way of living always along all my years. The first closest one disappear when he got married.
    Never I have known the reason, may be he married a very jealous woman that wanted her husband only for her, no friends, no family, only her
    and their daughters.
    Despite I was also married it was something really odd, we were like good brothers he was always at home, me too in his home, and he had also
    a very good relation with may parents. Being friends from 8 years old till 26 and living in the same Street, going to school together and being friends
    also of his sisters, he too, it was also without any explanation.

    Going to the college, I met also one very good friend, I was 17 years old and till now (nearly along fifty years) we have remained like close friends
    despite we both have families, sons and daughters, and so forth.
    Yesterday evening he was at home to collect a pack from Amazon I have asked for him. He have a son and two daughters of the same age of mine, more
    or less, but he has aloso grandsons/daughters than I haven´t. Even also I have quite incredible close very good women friends, also friends of Cuca, so life without friends it is something I can´t conceive.

    Yes, I know I have been a very lucky person having so close good friends to whom I could ask for nearly everything, even money…ja,ja, yes that´s has
    been true, the same like them from me (us) so I can´t be more in agreement of that phrase. “·Love and Friendship is Happiness” at least for me and
    for my wife Cuca, my best friend for all means.

    Thanks so much Warren, I think you have to be a good friend of your friends …yes, sure about that.


  7. emiliano says:

    He dear Tania, congratulations Romania is in the Eurovisión Final Contest.
    Yesterday I could see your Singer so incredible voice and also a handsome boy.
    Yes, congratulations again and ….GOOD LUCK.
    Saturday night we don´t lose the Eurovisión Final……which song do you like
    more, Tania?.


  8. sutisha says:

    Hi Warren and Everybody,

    Knowing how to love is great.
    Being loved is greater.
    Caring and understanding
    are the greatest?


  9. Ahmed says:

    I think that the reason for being resilient in life is being happy when we feel resentful with ourselves, because its very odd to expect happiness comes to our life when we feel angry from certain behavior or bad events in our lives , and the need for doing better in life is our aid for changing our physiology from being angry to happy, because happiness is the required state of mind that we need to achieve our goals in life.
    there is also something I want to refer to that form another source of happiness and that is our things we love to do like sports or reading , they are also a source of happiness and we have to protect them because they consists the need for progress in life.

  10. sutisha says:

    Hi Dear Warren and Everybody,

    H_Having known how to love is great.

    A_And feeling to be loved is greater.

    P_Pondering before saying keeps

    P_Pleasing those speaking and hearing.

    I_Inconsiderateness when happens,

    N_Never a second for some to …

    E_Earn either love or happiness.

    S_Sharing Love, Care, and Understanding which

    S_Simplify the world’s peace of mind is the greatest of all.


  11. Thaki Myo (Myanmar) says:

    Dear Warren and Jeff,
    My understanding of ‘what it means to be happy’ and ‘what makes us happy’ is, sorry to say but, quite different from yours and others’. We are sure to find ourselves feeling happy at one point and feeling sad at the other. In fact, the time we think we feel happy does not last long. Nor does the time we think we feel sad. To me, happiness is an escape that has nothing to do with both feelings.

  12. emiliano says:

    Good Saturday Warren and every one of you friends of the Blog.
    In this moment I don´t know if there are more replys on the air or only there are the tree I could see now.
    Well in the air there are at least two from Emiliano that are awaiting moderation from yesterday….ja,ja, yes it is a long time to moderate.
    It seems to me Jeff or Lucy have a lot of things to do, just Reading every one of the notes and moderate them. Hard work my friends.

    Having time enough to write, again I doing them a Little more work to moderate, sorry dear teachers.

    Thinking about the topic Warren has done to us now I have asked myself now: What makes you happy now emiliano?.
    Just today it is simple, First of all “I have not depression as I had last year”…the lack of it makes me feel happy despite there are reasons
    to feel not so happy, of course.

    But first I want to think about what make me to be happy now.
    First lack of depression.
    First too I have here at my side dear Cuca 43 years together and still loving each other.
    First also my daughters are good, I suppose as there is a long time without news from two of them.
    Second I have a house and money enough to be relaxed and live more or less well
    Second I have my cat Gatufo
    Second too I have a nice woman that comes home every day to help me with house chores and taken care of Cuca so I am more relaxed
    Second too my daughter Eva writes every morning, all days since 12 years, to her mami Cuca and both of them are happy with their mails.
    Third I have lot of time free to write, to read or listen to music, but I could also to take a walk but going alone in a big city like Madrid
    it is not an attractive option. I would like to go with my wife or to be other place to see the sea or the montains, this city is too much seen
    for me. All my life here……
    Third too I have still some good friends since a long long time that use to come home to see us frequently.
    Reasons to be not so happy:

    My dear friend Camila is really too bad, it seems she can´t fight to recover herself from the cáncer, but hope is the last feeling to be lost
    Dear Cuca has a disease without any hope since more tan twelf years, but she resist a day after another and her humor is good enough to survive and even be happy.
    Not any news from my younger two daughters Fátima and Laura. Fátima is living in Madrid but never call us, never comes and the last message she sent me was
    saying “please let me stay in peace”. A year and a half without seeing her, it is too hard for me or her mother. But I hope she is well enought…cross my fingers.
    Laura is in Copenhaguen and got ungry with me (or even her mother) for something so stupid as political questions or subjects. The result some months without news
    also, but again I think she is all right doing the work she likes more.

    So, put the reasons on the balance and wich will be the result?

    Well, I do think the resons to be happy weight just more than the others. In fact nothing wrong is happening so yes, now I feel happy.
    The worst, but usual already, it is Cuca has multiple sclerosis without hopes to be right, but it is her, our, usual state of things for more than twelve years.
    Even the worst it is our dear Camila seems to be really bad, I can´t accustomed to this bad situation, bad after nine months thinking on her a day after
    another it seems it is too real.

    These morning, when I don´t see any new comments on the ESL Blog, these are my thoughts.

    Thank you to all who has the patience of reading thil long statement that some how gives me some peace. It is said that writing own thoughts or painting
    it is the best self therapy.

    Thanks my friends.


  13. Dan says:

    Hey there

    I am pretty sure I am gonna look even better that the guy in the Photo when older.. I am not sure about having at my side a hot milf like that.
    And, I also want to go around with that grin 24/7


  14. Jesus P says:

    Hello Warren,

    It´s a really interesting study, “Grant Study”, you´ve based this article on.
    It reminds me of a quotation of Charlie Jones, and it goes like this,

    “You will be the same person in five years as you are today except for the
    people you meet and the books you read.”

    That´s why I like to meet good people like you guys on this blog, and of course
    reading good books, which is one of my favorite things to do.

    Thanks for this podcast!


    Jesús P.

  15. Willy says:

    I don’t believe love is happiness because love doesn’t exist, every man or woman pursuit their own selfish aims and they use relationship to obtain something (even love) but no one donates without interest.
    It’s very rare when someone donates or does something without interest.
    And when I say interest, I say every thing, it could be love, warm, self-security or other.
    No one does anything for nothing.
    The only love I know it’s very not interested is my mum love. She does as she can to make me happy without any reward. And often I ask why ….

  16. Jean A says:

    my family makes me happy and sad every movement in my life.

  17. emiliano says:

    Willy, I don´t know how old are you, it seems to me you are Young if it is so, please don´t be so sure about anything or be sure about very
    few subjects, one of them could be that your mam loves you and there is not a reson for that. It is your mam, nothing more and she loves
    you because her heart is full of love to her son or sons and daughters if are there more.
    There is not any reason to love somebody it is so, life is so without any other explanation. I love my wife and I can´t say why?, also I love
    my daughters and it is the same, I can´t say why?.
    O course, we receive something from people we love, we really love. Do you know what? A reason to live, nothing more.
    To me life without Cuca doesn´t mean anything, so YES she gives me everything, just the same I give her, a reason to follow living.
    It is all, you receive all if you love a woman or a man it is not your son, your daughter or your parents.

    That´s all dear Willy, and if you are a fortunate person it is posible you may find that person one day, or not…..no body knows but if you feel
    it just you´ll know your life is nothing without her or him. So yes, you receive a marvellous gift.

    My best wishes dear Willy. emiliano

  18. Cauat says:

    Dear Warren,
    This is quite a difficult question to answer what is ‘happiness’, I just want to find out whether happiness affected by inside influence factor yourself or external influence factor that arround you.
    Just take a imaginary example like twins A&B, they both having the same situation in life, but A feels unhappy because he is lack of money! when B never feels how bad the life he live even B is poorer than A. So can I say the most important factor to make youself feel happy is depend on yourself(the inside factor)? And how about giving A the money he want? would A feels happy? maybe..but in this case, it seems external factor influence people all the time.
    ‘the only thing that matters in life are your relationships to other people….Happiness is love’ ,if we get a bad relationships to other people, does it means we could not get a happy life?

    ‘happiness is an state of mind’, I quite agree with it! Somthing occupy the most of your life, you accept it and you would find out what happiness is! If you don’t accpet it, you may do somthing to change it ,finally you succeeded and you feels happy. you failed and you keep trying……it seems happiness is just a matter of time for someone to keep something in his mind! but I not sure…

    best regard,
    see you soon

  19. Willy says:

    Thanks Emiliano, I understand you. I had a girlfriend I loved very much but she leaved me some year ago.
    Our relationship lasted ten years until she have fallen in love with another guy …
    She broke my heart I was suffering very much.
    Sometime I think to her I think as you, she was my life reason ..
    But she doesn’t love me anymore and only thing I have is my mum and my family.
    They continues to love me even though I ignored them.
    This is love but my ex-girlfriend did she love me?
    She leaved me alone without any sign and she doesn’t care if I’m fine or not, she continues to do her life … without me.
    However life continues and even though I miss her I have to continue my journey … but sometime it is difficult because I think to love her still but she doesn’t love me anymore and I have to accept it.

  20. tracy_lee says:

    Hi Warren and everybody,

    Thanks for the meaningful topic.I agree that there would be a strong relation between a warmth relationship and happiness.To love and to be loved would be the basis of happiness. But after reading your blog,I’m thinking much more .To understand what make us happy should make sure first when we will feel happy.Health,wealth , beauty….all what people want to get.But after they got these,they will desire for else things.There won’t come to an end and off course they won’t feel happy as well.I think people should be grateful about what they have already got first ,about the things they probably neglect.Meanwhile people should have opportunities to pursue their target.All these would make me happy.How about you?

    with kind regards,

  21. emiliano says:

    So sorry dear Willy, I think it could be good for you to write about your feeling the way you have done now here, better with
    people you don´t know face to face and sure there will be many of us that have pass through the same situation like yours.
    Being so, I understand what you told us before. Again, so sorry and I have not words that could be of some help to you in
    your deep deception.
    Yes, knowing I have been and I am a lucky man of finding my dear wife and loving each other along so many time, it is some
    hpw like the first prize in the lottery of life.
    Be sure that you know what love is despite it has been to suffer now, but the great feeling it is possible inside your soul or
    your heart and may be in future you could express it with some other person.
    The only nephew I have pass for the same situation you have told us, but after some time he could find the girl who now is his wife
    since more than 12 years and they have two daughters.
    No body knows what future reserve us and it is sure that this girl wasn´t for you dear Willy, better now that afterward.

    My best wishes to you Willy, we all are here to you dear friend. Letting out our/your feelings it is always good.

  22. fatemeh says:

    hi dear Lucy and Jeff . I am your new student from Iran

  23. emiliano says:

    He, welcome Fatemeh, I do think your name is Fátima in Spanish, like my daughter.
    Being here in this ESL podcast it will be good for you sure.
    There is a lot of people from Iran in the blog and being students with Jeff and Lucy.
    Congratulations again. emiliano.spain

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