Man Smoking and DrinkingHarvard University’s Study of Adult Development followed over 800 people from youth to old age to figure out what works to make a happy life. The researchers actually took data from three different studies to find out what makes people live longer and happier. One of the studies followed 268 Harvard graduates born in the early 20th century. Another study looked at blue collar workers. The third study examined women’s development.

Researchers put together a list of six factors that impact happiness. The three studies have over a century of data and insights. Some of the findings are obvious, while others are subtler. Here are the key things you should consider.

Smoking and Alcohol Is a Key Predictor of an Early Death

Research found that among the men, smoking was a major factor in early death and physical aging. Men who started smoking early in their life died much earlier than those who didn’t. However, if they stopped smoking by age 45, the effects were not as discernable by the time they reached 70 or 80. Alcohol was another factor in happiness. It makes a person less happy and can mess up relationships. Although some believe that people drink because they have problems, alcohol causes its own problems, too.

Education Boosts Health

The Harvard-educated men in the study were much healthier than blue-collar workers, except in one case. Blue-collar workers and underprivileged men with education were just as healthy as the Harvard-educated men. Education is key to health. The researchers believe that it isn’t income or IQ that made people healthier; it’s education. People who went to college had better habits when it came to eating, exercise and overall health. College-educated individuals used less alcohol, didn’t smoke and ate healthier.

Your Past Does Have an Impact on Your Adult Life

Social class was not an element in whether an adult was happy and lived longer. It was actually how loved the person felt as a child. One key finding in the study was that “people who aged the best had coped well with something so horrific you wouldn’t wish it on your worse enemy.” But, if you had a bad childhood, you’re not doomed. People who found support of good friends and a loving spouse in adulthood often reversed the effects of a bad childhood.

Relationships Are Important

Emotional intelligence is key to successful aging. EI is the ability to handle relationships well and to be empathetic with others. According to the study, people who aged well understood that new relationships needed to be created when friends moved on. There are plenty of studies that show seniors who have a full social circle live better and longer.

Coping Skills

How you respond to painful thoughts and bad situations is another element in happiness and longevity. Poor coping skills, such as blaming others or being in denial, produced poor outcomes. Choosing to cope by using mature methods, such as humor or letting things roll off your back, lead to positive relationships. Find mature ways to handle what life throws at you.

Give Back

The study calls it “generativity,” the act of giving back and building community. There might be times where a person has to be a little selfish, but helping others and being unselfish with your time and money is a great way to be happier and live longer. Build your life when you’re young, but spend the older years sharing with others.

What’s the Bottom Line?

This study demonstrates that you have a lot of control over your happiness in life. Choosing good habits, acting with maturity and giving back increase your happiness and longevity. As you think about your 2019 resolutions, keep these things in mind.

Category: Health and Wellness Science

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