What Actually Makes Us Happy? Lessons from an 85-Year Study of Life

This is a member only resource

Become a Member » Log In »
What Actually Makes Us Happy? Lessons from an 85-Year Study of Life
Conference 2024 . Harvard medical school, mclean and institute of coaching

For most of the 20th century we measured our wellbeing solely on the basis of gross domestic product. In the last 20 years, people have taken a serious look at what makes us happy. The UN publishes a yearly report that identifies the conditions that people say they need to live a happy life, and they are fairly uniform across all cultures and income levels. These factors include social support, health, freedom to make life choices, and trust. Yet when we survey millennials in the US about their most important life goals, they tell us that they want to become rich and famous and achieve a great deal at work.

The disconnect is due at least in part to what we are told we should want and should make us happy, through constant bombardment from media about what life should look like. The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the only studies in history to track the same people from adolescence into their 90s, to find out what really makes us thrive. We find that the breadth and depth of our relationships with others are keys to wellbeing as we age – not just happiness, but physical health. Loneliness is toxic, and many people are lonely. We find that material things make us less happy than experiences. Although relationships are key to our thriving, we have stopped investing in others over the last 70 years. Beginning with the arrival of television in every home, and increasing with the advent of our electronic screens, we have greatly diminished the frequency with which we invite others to our homes, have family dinners, and invest in community activities and religious institutions. We must actively tend to our connections with others in order to foster our own wellbeing and the wellbeing of those we care about.

Become a Member

The IOC is a global community of coaches.


Contact Us

  • Institute of Coaching
  • McLean Hospital
  • 115 Mill Street, Mail Stop 314
  • Belmont, MA 02478
  • Phone: 617-767-2670
  • [email protected]