Stories from Dr. Yukari, Story 30, What makes us happier?

[ Stories from Dr. Yukari ]

Guided by the hope of St. Nichiren, we continue to work towards a peaceful society. Honolulu Myohoji Mission collaborates with Psychologist Dr. Yukari Kunisue, a trained and experienced therapeutic life coach, to offer a safe online space: Stories from Dr. Yukari


Dr. Robert Waldinger and his wife


In 1938 at Harvard University, 268 Juniors made up of 19-year-old men were recruited to participate in a longitudinal study for human development. They all filled out a questionnaire and submitted detailed physical test results and answered extensive interview questions in person. 


Many of these men became military officers or soldiers due to World War II beginning around this time. In the study, the participants were asked about life, health and overall level of happiness roughly every two years. Eventually, some of the young men became successful lawyers, business executives, medical doctors and politicians including former US President John F. Kennedy. Others passed away early, became alcoholics, afflicted by physical or mental health. The sample group showed a variety of American adult males. 


Later during the study, a wider range of young men from different social classes from the Boston area were added to the study. Participants now included men who grew up in poor households with no running water. During the 83 years, roughly 724 men participated in this research. There are still a handful of participants who are still alive today and are in their late 90’s.


According to Professor Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of the research explains that no other research study in the world extensively covers people’s health, career, family relationships, and general concerns similar to this study. The research also provided information on the participants’ parents, spouses, children, and grandchildren. The research gave insight into the fundamental question about human life: What makes a person truly happy?


When the participant is young, the answer to the question involved “success in a career” and “financial stability”. When a person gets a little older, their responses change to “health” and “good relationship with family or loved ones”. The research originally assumed that the happier person is the one who has friends and family that they can depend on. However, the research results indicated the good and loving relationships with loved ones were indeed important, but it was not the most important element to happiness. 


What do the readers think was the top most important element of happiness?


Research showed that true happiness came from helping others.


Happiness and contentment of life would not increase as the annual income increases. They don’t increase when a person becomes famous either. Rather, we feel truly happy when we could help someone else with our actions, words, or simply being with the other person. We sometimes feel happier than the recipient of our help. Director Waldinger says, “it doesn’t matter how old you are. You can start right now to become happier. Take your attention away from your cellphone, electronic appliances, or TV set. Go out and see the person (even if you have to mask up and social distance). You can also invite your significant other on a date, call a friend or family member who you meant to call for a long time.”


To end off, I would like to add a few more pointers that may help us become happier. Take a walk with your friends, pick up trash on the street or beach, and listen to stories from your older neighbor. You can make small changes today to feel true happiness!


 What makes a good life: Lessons from the longest study on happiness

By Robert Waldinger