What it Takes to Have a Good Life

Key Takeaways

  • A long-term Harvard study examined what makes a good life.
  • The results were very clear but also somewhat surprising.
  • There are three particular factors that help determine whether a person will have a good life, with one of those factors being especially strong.

What makes a good life? This was a question posed by Harvard physician Dr. Arlie Bock in 1938, resulting in a study funded by W.T. Grant. The study was intended to be a long-term examination of 268 Harvard men who were sophomores during the years 1939 through 1944. The researchers wanted to diverge from the usual study of sickly people during that time, instead focusing on successful men, examining what made life good for them.

The men were interviewed, completed questionnaires, and had physicals conducted, to gauge all aspects of their lives. Unfortunately, the study lost its momentum and funding in the mid-1950s, though a few researchers did continue to send out questionnaires to the participants every few years. Then, in the 1960s, many of the men in the study began to find success. Additionally, the study gained traction when psychiatrist George Vaillant discovered it.

Vaillant added another group to the study from a project known as “The Glueck Study”: 456 inner-city youths. These participants were from Boston and came from disadvantaged backgrounds.

What the study found was that there were three key factors that play important roles for a successful life.

First factor: success is to be measured over the arc of a lifetime. In other words, take a long-term view when considering success. The reason for this is that some of the participants started out very poorly but ended up with happy lives. Conversely, others started off very well, but ended up living very sad and lonely lives. What the researchers discovered from this was that it’s important to live life with a noble goal, to connect decisions to a long-term purpose in life.

Second factor: emotional intelligence plays a key role. Remember, the concept of emotional intelligence was new at the time. Building the skills to deal with the good and the bad in life – adapting to situations – was found to be important. Valliant found that there are five adaptations in particular that are pillars of a good life: altruism, anticipation, suppression, sublimation, and humor.

These adaptations align with what we now call emotional intelligence, and the study found three aspects of emotional intelligence. First, emotional intelligence is highly correlated with personal and professional success, more so than having wealth, status, or fame. Second, you can learn and improve your emotional intelligence over time. Third, emotional intelligence increases over time, as you age.

Third factor: relationships, relationships, relationships. By far, the strongest indicator of a good life is one’s relationships. The study found that having strong relationships correlated with better health, more happiness, more wealth, and longer lives. The participants who had strong relationships when they were in their 50s were living better lives in their 80s than those who did not have such relationships.

For more information on this study, read this article. Hopefully, it provides you with some food for thought when it comes to happiness and success in your own life. Until next time, enjoy.


If you’d like to read more on this topic, here are a few of our past Coyle Blog posts that you might enjoy:

Living a Wealthy Life

Do You Feel Fulfilled in Life?



Gary Klaben serves as a Financial Advisor, and visionary for Coyle Financial Counsel. He has over 30 years of experience and is the author of Changing the Conversation, Wealth of Everything and co-author of The Business BattlefieldWhether advising his clients, mentoring his team, or coaching entrepreneurs, he is always simplifying complexity and motivating others to take the next action that’s right for them.

Learn more about The Coyle Process, approach designed to get your arms around the big picture, so you can make informed financial decisions. Ask Gary about The Coyle Process and schedule a complimentary consultation and start living the Good Life Managed Well™.
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All information is from sources deemed reliable, but no warranty is made to its accuracy or completeness.   This material is being provided for informational or educational purposes only, and does not take into account the investment objectives or financial situation of any client or prospective client.  The information is not intended as investment advice, and is not a recommendation to buy, sell, or invest in any particular investment or market segment.  Those seeking information regarding their particular investment needs should contact a financial professional.  Coyle, our employees, or our clients, may or may not be invested in any individual securities or market segments discussed in this material.  The opinions expressed were current as of the date of posting but are subject to change without notice due to market, political, or economic conditions. All investments involve risk, including loss of principal.  Past performance is not a guarantee of future results.

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