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Harvard Study Reveals The Single Thing That Makes Us Happy

So why are we always doing the complete opposite?

Research that started way back in 1938 proves that it takes more than just money to make us happy as humans.

The same but different

Different things matter to different people. We know this fact to be true. After all, wouldn’t life be boring if we were all the same and liked the same things all the time?

It is often said that “money can’t buy happiness.” Even this phrase will divide opinions if you take a random sample of people. But neither money nor anything else tangible really matters when it comes to our overall happiness and wellbeing.

Before we identify the one thing the Harvard research study has discovered over many decades, we must first consider two key issues.

Firstly, some people were gifted with a positive genetic condition. That is, we are predisposed to being happier in life. For those lucky enough to find themselves in this category, their natural temperament makes them less anxious, more emotionally stable, and generally nicer people to be around.

German philosopher Martin Heidegger calls this phenomenon ‘Geworfen‘ or ‘throwness’ in English. The concept of Geworfen is that our experience in life, from birth to death, is arbitrarily determined by where we’re thrown into the world. Born into a specific family in a particular culture or religion at a given moment in human history is purely a matter of chance and nothing more.
In simple terms, the two contributory factors of genetics and Geworfen, might be outside our control but should not be dismissed as irrelevant just because they are.
These two factors matter. However, what matters just as much, perhaps more, is something that IS within our control. That one thing is human relationships.
But regardless of the situation we find ourselves in, and no matter what socioeconomic background we might hail from, it is a simple fact, according to the Harvard study, that human connection is the one thing that trumps all others when it comes to our overall happiness.

But if that really is the case, why do we ignore the fact so much in our modern, 21st-century lives?

No one is an island

The Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest-running study on happiness, has followed 724 men since they were teenagers in 1938, with participants coming from various socioeconomic backgrounds.

The Harvard team has collected a wealth of data over the past 74 years, collating the study participants’ personal, psychological, and health indicators and outcomes. It has been asking their families about their mental and emotional health every two years.

According to Dr. Robert Waldinger, the project’s study director,
“Personal connection creates mental and emotional stimulation, and those things are automatic mood boosters, while isolation is a mood buster.”


Like many animal species on our planet, humans are a social species. Many examples going back centuries have shown that humans thrive better when in the company of other humans. They co-exist in the window of time on Earth and, in the meantime, live, socialize, work, trade with, and enjoy the company of others.

The behaviors responsible for ensuring social connection and, therefore, our overall success in life rely on humans interacting, getting along, and co-existing in harmony with others.

In simple terms, without this interaction through human relationships, our race would die out – it is as simple as that. So why is it that we are not living that reality?

Modern life is overriding our natural makeup

Technology and modern life, more generally, appear to take much greater precedence these days rather than taking the time to spend it with our fellow humans. If we consider the reality of this statement, we are spending more time alone nowadays than we ever have done in all of human history. The consequence of this is that life, in general, is making us unhappy.

And while in our mobile phones, we carry around a gadget with more processing power than we could have imagined at the start of many of our lifetimes, we are still not as happy as those who have gone before us, according to the study.

Us. Here and now, together

It is estimated that early humans in hunter-gather societies would have spent the majority of their time with one another. They would have done everything together at every waking moment, such as working, hunting, preparing food, and eating.

Even going back as far as we possibly can in human history, we know that our ancestors spent their leisure time together, and moments of ritual celebration would have been a group experience.

Suppose we contrast this with our modern lives. Nearly a third of people in so-called developed Western countries live alone. These people are genuinely alone for about 8-10 hours of the day, every day. For people who live with others, it’s about 5-7 hours every day. As people get older, they spend nearly half their waking time alone.


Photo: Piacquardio via


Consequently, we need to look to the future and be intentional about the societies and cultures we want to build for ourselves and humans in general. We must facilitate and harvest the natural urge to connect, belong, and socialize.

Everything we do, whether it be developing new technologies, city infrastructures, governmental and corporate organizations, and the way we do business together, should always consider that we as humans can survive in the long term by connecting with each other.

Every day is a new opportunity to improve our lives and that of the world’s population in general. The connection between humans will be the catalyst that will enable us to take advantage of these opportunities.

If we fail to do so, we risk living in a technologically advanced society, and despite all we might have, we will co-exist behind closed doors, where we will all be lonely and unhappy.


How do this article and the Harvard study make you feel about today’s society? Do you feel connected or isolated from your fellow humans? Tell us more in the comments. 

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