The key to happiness

The key to happiness

A comprehensive study has offered an insight into what makes for a good life and a good old age. The director of the Grant study George Vaillant speaks with Tracy Bowden about his results.

TRACY BOWDEN, PRESENTER: Just what is the key to happiness? One person in a good position to know is Dr George Vaillant, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. For more than 40 years he’s directed one of the most comprehensive long-term studies in history. The grant study has documented the lives of a group of 268 men from youth through to old age with regular questionnaires, medical exams and interviews. Dr Vaillant is in Sydney for the fifth annual Happiness and its Causes conference and I spoke to him earlier today.

George Vaillant, you’ve been immersed in this study and these lives for more than 40 years now. Are you saying that the key to a good life is in the relationships you have in your life?

GEORGE VAILLANT, PSYCHIATRY, HARVARD MEDICAL SCHOOL: Absolutely. This is the only study in the world where you can take 18 year olds and compare them to themselves at 90 so that to answer the question, “Is love the most important thing in the world?”, this study was uniquely set up to do that. Some kids came from families where their parents were multimillionaires and some people came from families where their father worked in a garage and they were on full scholarship. Social class of your parents 40 years on made no difference at all. So that it isn’t the class system that governs how we turned out in life, but it matters tremendously whether we are loved and whether we’re able to give love. And if I feel sick to my stomach, if I feel hungry, if I’ve got the hots for someone, it’s all about me. Whereas if I have compassion, if I feel forgiveness, if I trust someone, it’s all about them. And it’s that distinction that makes the difference in well-being.

Read more of this interview about happiness – click here