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Making Sense of Science

The World's Longest Running Study on Happiness, with Dr. Bob Waldinger

Making Sense of Science
Making Sense of Science

What makes for a good life? Such a simple question, yet we don't have great answers. Most of us try to figure it out as we go along, and many end up feeling like they never got to the bottom of it.

Shouldn't something so important be approached with more scientific rigor? In 1938, Harvard researchers began a study to fill this gap. Since then, they’ve followed hundreds of people over the course of their lives, hoping to identify which factors are key to long-term satisfaction.

Eighty-five years later, the Harvard Study of Adult Development is still going. And today, its directors, the psychiatrists Bob Waldinger and Marc Shulz, have published a book that pulls together the study’s most important findings. It’s called The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.

In this podcast episode, I talked with Dr. Waldinger about life lessons that we can mine from the Harvard study and his new book.

Dr. Waldinger is Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, in addition to being Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. He got his M.D. from Harvard Medical School and has published numerous scientific papers he’s a practicing psychiatrist and psychoanalyst, he teaches Harvard medical students, and since that is clearly not enough to keep him busy, he’s also a Zen priest.

His book is a must-read if you’re looking for scientific evidence on how to design your life for more satisfaction so someday in the future you can look back on it without regret, and this episode was an amazing conversation in which Dr. Waldinger breaks down many of the cliches about the good life… making his advice real and tangible. We also get into what he calls “side-by-side” relationships, personality traits for the good life, and the downsides of being too strict about work-life balance.

Show links

- Bob Waldinger
- Waldinger's book, The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness
- The Harvard Study of Adult Development
- Waldinger's Ted Talk
- Gallup report finding that people with good friends at work have higher engagement with their jobs
- The link between relationships and well-being
- Those with social connections live longer

Making Sense of Science features interviews with leading medical and scientific experts about the latest developments in health innovation and the big ethical and social questions they raise. The podcast is hosted by science journalist Matt Fuchs

Making Sense of Science
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