APRIL BOOK CLUB: “The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness”

By Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz

This book is based on a study that began in 1938 when Harvard staffers, Robert Waldinger, the Director of adult development, and Schulz, an associate director. The study, which began in 1938, has followed more than 700 men for over 84 years, making it the longest-running scientific study of happiness in history. The study has had an 84 percent participation rate for 84 years, making it one of the most successful longitudinal studies ever conducted.

Authors were aware that the original participants were all white men and cross referenced other longitudinal studies to compare results. 

The study has produced some incredible findings, and in “The Good Life,” Waldinger and Schulz share the lessons we can learn from the study about what makes us happy and what’s important in our lives.

“insightful and inspiring and will remind you why relationships matter so much in our lives.”

New York Journal of Books

Book insights we loved:

Stay Connected to Family & Friends

People who are connected to family, friends or neighbors are healthier and happier than their contemporaries, who are less connected and more isolated than they want to be lonely, people have shorter lives.

Social People Live Longer

People who are more socially connected are at less risk of dying during any year. Interacting with others improves our mood and brings us more joy than we thought it would.

Your Childhood is not your Fate

Research definitively proves that your childhood and the circumstances you grew up in do not predict your future. There is opportunity for growth and change.

Touch Sooths Whole Body

Human touch physical proximity have emotional, psychological and biological effects.

Positive Relationships

Positive relationships, even if only casual, are essential for human well-being. Interacting with others improves our mood and brings us more joy than we thought it would. Everyone faces obstacles, but those who have a support network are able to get through them and know that they will be able to.

Adolescents Need Role Models

They found the connection with adults, their parents, and even siblings to be critical success factors in happiness later in life.

The happiest participants asked, what can I do to help the world beyond myself?

Social Media is Good & Bad

Social media has many positive benefits with regards to connection: however, we need to be asking how does social media negatively impact children during their formative years? Edge is unclear as to whether the social skills you develop in person can be developed online.

People that scroll on social media, feel worse than those who comment and interact on social media. Notice whether you feel energized or depleted after scrolling on social media for 30 minutes. Set aside distraction free time with your social relationships. 

Tips from the Book:

  • Change schedule to spend more time with relationships. People at the end of their life wish they would’ve spent more time with their loved ones.
  • Cultivate good relationships of all kinds
  • Look at a picture of yourself at half your age and ask yourself questions like “was I happy?” or “what was going through my mind during that time?”
  • Write down a list of 10 people in your life that you interact with regularly and document how you feel after being around them. Regular social contact is key for health 
  • Show appreciation for those relationships that energize you? Can you make relationships more energizing? Explore what to do with relationships that are energy depleting. 
  • Set aside distraction free time like no phones at the dinner table 
  • Keep a gratitude journal about partner
  • Establish regular family dinners. Children who have a regular family dinner have higher, self esteem, better grades, lower drug and alcohol abuse, and reduction in teen pregnancy

The WISER Model to Improve Coping Skills

Our emotions need not be our masters; what we think, and how we approach each event in our lives, matters.

-Robert Waldinger & Marc Schulz

This study collected a wealth of data on how different people have approached their lives and relationships, as well as how those approaches have served them throughout their lives.

Waldinger and Schulz reached two important conclusions regarding coping strategies. First, emotional avoidance is not only bad for us in the short term but also in the long term. Among participants, either ignoring emotions or relying on poor regulation techniques in middle age was associated with negative consequences in retirement years. Such correlations included poorer memories and less life satisfaction. Second, it can be incredibly difficult for people to change their automatic emotional responses, and it isn’t a question of willpower or intelligence. Oftentimes, participants developed their behavioral patterns early in life — often from lessons imparted by their families and cultures. Without that recognition of emotions it makes regulation of them impossible.

WISER is an acronym representing each stage in the sequence: watch, interpret, select, engage, and reflect. The goal is to develop a self-awareness of our emotions.


When you encounter a powerful emotion, your action tendency will arise, and you’ll feel the urge to respond immediately. However, these urges are often built on pattern recognition and general impressions. They rarely come from a full, clear-eyed understanding of the situation or stimulus.

As such, Waldinger and Schulz recommend taking time to round out your impressions through thoughtful observation. In some cases, this period may only last a moment or two; in others, it may require that you set aside an hour or evening. During that time, try to bring your curiosity to the entire situation. What was the environment? Was the situation unusual? Who were you interacting with, and what do you know about this person? What may you have missed that may prove important?


Next, consider what your observations mean. Sometimes our emotional reactions make small problems seem huge, and huge problems seem small. We can also assume that we understand the entirety of a situation when, in fact, we are working with the precious few details that our brains were able to consciously snag in the heat of the moment. This assumption can be especially precarious when we’re trying to understand the workings of another person’s mind.

Simply asking, “What are my assumptions?” can reveal that many of your supposed facts were, in fact, hasty conclusions that spurred your emotions to staggering — but completely unnecessary — highs.


The Select stage is where you choose a course of action from the available options. Critically, the choice should be made deliberately rather than reflexively. You need to consider what your desired outcome is, the best way to reach that outcome, if you have strengths that can help, and any weaknesses you should be careful to avoid.


Once you’ve selected a strategy, you need to engage, and at this stage, the options can be unique to the circumstances.


Finally, reflect on how it went. Sometimes it can help to run through the situation with a trusted confidant. Other times, you may want to use distanced self-reflection to assess the situation like an outside observer. And if you write a column on a reputable science website where you can get paid to work through your own less-than-WISER moments, why not try that?

Learn more about the WISER model — The WISER model: How not to be at the mercy of your emotions

If you’re interested in learning more about what makes people happy and what’s important in our lives, we highly recommend “The Good Life.” It’s a fascinating read and Waldinger and Schulz are excellent guides.

The Goode Life is the 9th most watch TED talk!!