WHEN talking to Robert Waldinger, it’s hard to ignore the fact that he seems extremely content. A side effect of his work, perhaps. As the director of the longest scientific study ever conducted on happiness, it would be quite disappointing if it were anything else.
The Harvard Study of Adult Development (HSAD) began in 1938, with 724 participants: 268 Harvard College undergraduates and 456 14-year-olds who had grown up in some of the most deprived neighborhoods of Boston, Massachusetts.
All were interviewed and underwent medical examinations upon joining the study. Throughout their lives, the participants underwent regular brain scans and blood tests and took part in further interviews, as the researchers set out to find answers to what makes a happy and meaningful life.
More than eight decades later, HSAD has expanded to include three generations and more than 1,300 direct descendants of the original participants. Waldinger, who is also a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and director of the Center for Psychodynamic Therapy and Research at Massachusetts General Hospital, has co-written The good life with study associate director Marc Schulz, bringing together case studies with the latest psychological research to share what they have learned about living a happy life.
Alison Flood: How do you define happiness?
Robert Waldinger: There are two big containers that happiness seems to fall into. One is hedonic…