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Cracking the Code to Lasting Happiness: Lessons from The Harvard Study of Adult Development

Long, dark winters can bring on the blues – so here’s a dose of happiness. We reveal what happy people have in common, according to The Harvard Study of Adult Development, and suggest how you can replicate their success.

“Happiness is a habit – cultivate it,” said 19th-century American philosopher and artist Elbert Hubbard. And it seems he was right. The Harvard Study of Adult Development, one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies ever done, found a key ingredient for happiness is building and maintaining good relationships. Although external factors and your genes have an influence on your emotions, solid friendships help pick you up. Statistics show two in five Australians1 experience depression or another mental issue at some time in their lives, so getting happy is something we could all try. Here’s what the data tells us.

The Harvard Study

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has found striking similarities across the happiest of its participants. The study, which began in 1938, began by tracking two groups – young white men attending Harvard University, and kids from disadvantaged or troubled families in Boston neighbourhoods.

While researchers updated the study to include an equal number of female participants, in 1938 most residents of Boston were white. So, it’s worth noting that the study isn’t ethnically diverse.

What makes us happiest?

The study found that, overwhelmingly, the happiest people are those who manage to form warm connections with others. They don’t need to have loads of friends, just relationships where they feel safe and loved. These connections help them get through life’s difficulties – and give them someone to enjoy the good times with.

Good health is also correlated with happiness. And, conversely, happiness is good for our health. The study found that people with healthy relationships with others are happier as they get older6 and less likely to get chronic illnesses such as coronary disease, arthritis and type 2 diabetes. Having fame, wealth and power doesn’t guarantee happiness, according to the data. Interestingly, the study found that if achievement is an important value to you, it can contribute to your sense of satisfaction. But those people who sacrificed relationships for work turned out to be the least happy of all.

External factors

So, is happiness all up to you? Well, not quite. Your environment also contributes. The World Happiness Report, a survey which has ranked the state of global happiness since 2012, compared well-being across countries based on three dimensions:

1. life evaluations – on a scale where the best possible life is 10 and the worst is 0,

2. positive emotions – laughter, enjoyment and interest, and

3. negative emotions – worry, sadness and anger.

In the 2023 report, stable countries with strong social services and support – namely, Finland, Denmark and Iceland – topped the survey. Australia was at number 12 – beaten by the Kiwis at 10, but ahead of Canada [13] Ireland [14] and the US [15]. And it’s no accident that Afghanistan, ravaged by war and whose people are now experiencing widespread poverty, rated last.

Finally, while extreme wealth won’t buy you happiness, having financial security can help you avoid stress and solve problems faster

How to build your happiness

Based on the data, here’s how to increase your happiness:

◗ Stay in touch with people who bring you joy. Email, call or see them face to face – and do it frequently.

◗ Build new relationships by joining a group with similar interests to yours, as you’re more likely to connect with people who have things in common with you.

◗ Find a form of exercise you like to lift your endorphins (feel-good hormones). Listening to music can also help boost your mood – so pop on your headphones and get moving!

How we can help?

Financial advice is all about helping you to live your best and happiest life. We can help you budget, build wealth and make sure your income is covered adequately to avoid stress in case things go wrong.

What you need to know

This information is provided and produced by Lush Wealth. The advice provided is general advice only as, in preparing it we did not take into account your investment objectives, financial situation or particular needs. Before making an investment decision on the basis of this advice, you should consider how appropriate the advice is to your particular investment needs, and objectives. You should also consider the relevant Product Disclosure Statement before making any decision relating to a financial product.


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