Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Babies, Bankruptcies and Bereavements

Broadcasting House
BBC Radio 4, Sunday 15th November, 2009.

Nearly 70 years ago, psychologists at Harvard University began a study which has become one of the longest and most comprehensive scientific studies ever undertaken: The Grant Study. They sought an answer to the perennial question about what makes people happy. In a blow to those sharing last week's £90m lottery win, the answer is not to "wait for fate".

Through it all: the battles survived, the babies born, the bankruptcies and the bereavements, the researchers have doggedly followed the Grant subjects. And their conclusion? Paraphrasing 68 years of work here...but essentially, being rich doesn't make you happy. Being nice, does.

"What makes people feel joy. What makes people feel glad that they lived their life, has to do with their relationships." Professor George Valiant is in charge of the study and therefore in charge of dispelling any lingering illusions that happiness is about pills and liquor...or sports cars and second homes. "Someone who has a fantastic naughty weekend is picking up the pieces all week. Whereas someone who has devoted themselves to other people - rather than happiness - when they are 80 has both a loving spouse and children and grandchildren who are fond of him. The way the brain is wired is that winning the lottery doesn't stimulate that part of the brain that heroin stimulates. Whereas attachment does."

The shelves of American bookshops are groaning with self-help books whose titles hint at the anxieties of this edgy nation. From How to Survive a Robot Uprising to Dog Sense: 99 relationship tips to get the most from your canine companion.

"The path to happiness is easy to identify, it's just hard to follow in real life. There's nothing more wonderful in time present than a great bottle of wine. The trouble is that once you've drunk the bottle, it's got no sticking power."


Anonymous said...

Martin Seligman, psychologist and champion of 'authentic happiness', reckons that if we use our best strengths,particularly in difficult situations, we become happier people. Optimists are happier and live longer. Ref: 'All in the Mind' Radio 4 last week!!

'A cheerful heart is good medicine' Proverbs 17 v.22 ma

Fat Cat said...

Accurate and nicely put, but so hard hard to enact when sand is being kicked in your face.


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