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Opinion | Sexuality

The Friendship Boost

The inextricable link between happiness and meaningful relationships (hint: they take more than Facebook updates).

"What Makes Us Happy?" It's an eternal mystery, and the title of a fascinating article by Joshua Wolf Shenk in the June Atlantic. Shenk was given access to archives of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has been following a group of men - Harvard College sophomores in the late 1930 - for over 70 years. About half of the original 268 men are still living.

Reading their stories and talking with the study's longtime director, psychiatrist George Vaillant, Shenk tried to find reasons for some men's happiness and others' dissatisfaction, failure, or ill health. The key to happiness proved elusive and complex, but one factor stood out. Shenk reports:

In an interview in the March 2008 newsletter to the Grant Study subjects, Vaillant was asked, "What have you learned from the Grant Study men?" Vaillant's response: "That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people."

Tony Woodlief, writing in The Wall Street Journal, comments on the Atlantic article and a half-dozen other sources in "Ya Gotta Have (Real) Friends." Woodlief links to Jeffrey Zaslow's WSJ article, "The Ties That Bind," pointing out that women are more likely than men to cultivate long-term friendships. Zaslow cites

a 14-year project at Flinders University in Australia that tracked 1,500 women as they aged. The study found that close friendships - even more than close family ties - help prolong women's lives. Those with the most friends lived 22% longer than those with the fewest ...
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