Book Review: “The Good Life”, by Robert Waldinger, MD and Marc Schulz, PhD

Published this year, “The Good Life” reports on the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the longest scientific study of happiness ever done. Tracking the lives of hundreds of participants for over 80 years, the report concludes that it is the strength of our relationships with friends, relatives and co-workers that most determine quality of life, health and longevity.

Regarding older adults, the authors note that time is suddenly very precious. Questions arise such as:

  • How much time do I have left?
  • How long will I stay healthy?
  • Am I losing it mentally?
  • Who do I want to spend this limited time with?
  • Have I had a good enough life?
  • What do I regret?

“The fewer moments we have to look forward to in life, the more valuable they become. Past grievances and preoccupations often dissipate…research has shown that human beings are never so happy as in the late years of their lives. We get better at maximizing highs and minimizing lows. We feel less hassled by the little things that go wrong, and we get better at knowing when something is important and when it’s not. The value of positive experiences far outweighs the cost of negative experiences, and we prioritize things that bring us joy. In short, we’re emotionally wiser, and that wisdom helps us thrive.”

We learn that neglected relationships, like muscles, atrophy. Our social life, being a living system, needs exercise. Further, the reason social relationships are so valuable has a biological basis — a means of protection from predators. Without meaningful relationships, we remain in a state of stress, often unknown to us.

Make the effort. Most of us have friends and relatives who energize us and who we don’t see enough. As Mark Twain said, “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that”.

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