By Jack B. Rochester, Managing Editor
Does attending Harvard make one happier? Probably not. As reported in The Atlantic magazine cover story for June, "What Makes Us Happy," [please try to forgive the insipid photo on the cover], a research study has been underway since 1937 to see how Hahvahd men [yes, all men] turned out. As most people know, Harvard grads do seem, in the aggregate, more successful than other college grads.
But is it true? Again, in the aggregate, the answer seems to be Yes. Joshua Wolf Shenk, the author of the article, reviewed records and discussed research findings with George Vaillant, who has led the research project since its inception. Mature adaptations, along with education, a stable marriage, neither smoking nor abusing alcohol, getting regular exercise and maintaining a healthy weight, were major factors in a happy life. "Mature adaptations are a real-life alchemy, a way of turning the dross of emotional crises, pain, and deprivation into the gold of human connection, accomplishment, and creativity," Shenk explains - like an oyster getting used to having a grain of sand lodged in its soft flesh.
Yet Vaillant's research over the years finds that perhaps the most important factor is having friends. “It is social aptitude,” says Vaillant, “not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging. ...the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”
Indeed, this is exactly what Harvard fosters, even above academic performance. I remember reading a novel, The Last Convertible by Anton Myrer, when I first arrived in Boston from California thirty years ago. It's the story about a kid with no money or social advantages getting a scholarship to Harvard and how he succeeds because of the friendships he develops. The novel validates exactly what Vaillant's 70-year study confirms: you're nobody unless somebody loves you, and the more people - family, friends, and associates - the better.
Jack B. Rochester is a professional writer and editor who has worked in nearly every aspect of publishing since 1974. He heads Joshua Tree Interactive, and is Managing Editor of The Business Insider blog.