Today I share with my students the results of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest research study on happiness and health ever conducted. For nearly 80 years, researchers followed the lives of 268 Harvard sophomores–and then their children (who now make the number of research participants 1,300)– to answer the question, “What makes a truly happy and healthy adult life?”
I reveal the results: the single most determining factor in happiness and health is close relationships. The single most determining factor in an unhappy and unhealthy life? Use of alcohol.
This month, we debunk the myths surrounding the pursuit of fame and wealth (the top cultural values of young people today) as what forms a happy adult life. We listen to celebrities talking about how much they dislike fame. Then, we add some complexity to this goal of being “happy adults”; we read this article entitled, “There’s More to Life Than Being Happy,” about how the very pursuit of happiness thwarts happiness. We ask questions like these: Is there something more important than happiness? How do we foster warm relationships? What contributes to the epidemic of loneliness on college campuses? How will I build my adult life?
Students work on defining the very terms that make up how we imagine what it means to be human and the most controversial phrases appearing in their desired professions.
I’m not sure I can imagine a more important essay topic than this.