How To Be Happy: 'Social Aptitude' Helps

By Harry Kimball,  Newser Staff
Posted May 12, 2009 8:53 PM CDT
In this 1956 file photo, then Sen. John F. Kennedy, D-Mass., smiles in his office in Washington.   (AP Photo/File)
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(Newser) – The secret to a happy life? It's ... complicated. Joshua Wolf Shenk of the Atlantic examines an extraordinary and still continuing 72-year study of 268 Harvard men—JFK and Ben Bradlee are two of the well-known participants—designed to shed light on how to lead a successful life. The subjects were chosen because they seemed destined to thrive, but along with no small number of success stories, a third of participants could be classified as mentally ill by age 50.

Psychiatrist George Vaillant, the study's main curator, concluded that it is "social aptitude, not intellectual brilliance or parental social class, that leads to successful aging." Warm connections are necessary—and if not found in a mother or father, they can come from siblings, uncles, friends, mentors. Asked last year about what he's learned in his own 42-year association with the study, he responded: "The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”