Relationships Matter: The Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development

Relationships Matter: The Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development

Dec 07, 2016

What makes us happy? What should we strive to do in our life now?

There have been various surveys among millennials on what their #LifeGoals are and the top two answers are: 1.) to be rich; and 2.) to be famous.


These answers are not limited to the millennials, I’m sure the same answers will come out if we survey the older ones. We are constantly bombarded by images of the have it all women working hard, men pushing themselves to the limit in order to reach the pinnacle of their chosen career. Then money comes and they live happily ever after. But is this the true to life storyline?

Not quite. Because of the belief that fame and fortune are the top sources of happiness, we get into that ultra busy, hyper multi-tasking mode. Consequently, some important aspects of life get sidelined, making us anything but happy.


The Harvard Study on Happiness

In 1938 Harvard started studying the different aspects of the lives of physically and mentally healthy teenaged boys. The participants were 724 young men: 1.) 268 Harvard college sophomores; and 2.) 456 disadvantaged boys in the poor neighborhoods of Boston. This became known as the Harvard Longitudinal Study of Adult Development. It is the longest longitudinal study ever done, celebrating its Diamond Anniversary a few years ago, and still ongoing.

This is an actual participant at age 19, 47 and 87 years.


Every year or so, the subjects were interviewed about their lives, work and health. Their medical conditions were checked via blood tests, brain scans, and other procedures.

Some of them became very successful – company executives, senators, one even became a US president. While some climbed up the ladder from the bottom of society to the top, others went the opposite direction. While some enjoyed healthy lives with family and friends, some developed diseases such as schizophrenia, dementia, etc.

Today, the study goes on with 60 participants still alive, now in their 90s. The study has likewise included the wives, children, grandchildren, great grandchildren of the original subjects. The number of descendants has grown to over 2,000! So can you imagine the magnitude of data they have collected?



What do these voluminous data teach us about human development? The underlying and most important finding is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

It turns out that good relationships protect our body from sickness, and our brain from memory loss. Warm Relationships = Longer Life.

On the other hand, loneliness is toxic! Those with bad relationships found themselves with declining health. They suffered from memory loss. Bad Relationships = Shorter life!

Moreover it wasn’t the cholesterol count that predicted how they would grow old. It was their relationship satisfaction. Those who were satisfied with their relationships in their 50s were the ones healthiest in their 80s. On the other hand, those who were not satisfied in their relationships had more magnified pain in their 80s.


Interesting findings about relationships with mother and father:

We might intuitively predict that a boy’s warm relationship with his father will positively affect his professional life, and a warm relationship with his mother will affect his emotional life. But let’s check out the findings:

Boys who had warm relationships with their mothers became more effective at work. They were earning US$87,000/year more than the other group. Moreover, those with uncaring mothers were more likely to develop dementia in old age.

So what about the effect of the fathers? Boys who had warm relationships with their fathers enjoyed their vacations more! Okay, before you conclude that dads are just for the good times, here’s more. The boys with warm relationships with their fathers didn’t just enjoy their vacations more but they also had lower rates of adult anxiety and had increased life satisfaction at age 75 and beyond. Interestingly, the warmth of relationships with mothers had no significant bearing on life satisfaction at 75 and beyond.

Two interesting insights: 1.) Mothers affect the professional life and fathers affect the emotional life. Plus, it seems that we, mothers, affect our sons’ lives up until they turn diamond (75)! So let’s have warm, not smothering but healthy, relationships with our children.

When I discussed this surprising finding with my husband (i.e. mothers affecting the sons’ professional life and fathers the emotional life), he said, “It’s because in the traditional set-up, it’s the mother who’s with the child on a more regular basis instilling discipline at home, school work, etc., while the father comes home and just checks if everything’s okay then spends the weekends with them.” Great insight! So there, I guess whoever is in charge of the day-to-day discipline will greatly affect our children’s future professional lives. Now the intriguing question is this: “Who is with your child everyday instilling discipline, implementing rules which will greatly affect his work ethic in the future?”



Relationships on Financial Success:

Financial Success is also largely depended on the warmth of relationships. Do you know that warm relationships have a bigger effect on financial success more than IQ level? At a certain level of IQ (110-115), any incremental IQ points didn’t matter anymore. But those who enjoyed warm relationships were earning US$141,000/year compared to the other group.

So, raising children with high FQ is making sure that our children have warm relationships growing up!

In other words, the warmth of our relationships throughout life has the greatest impact on life satisfaction!



Tracking our Relationship Satisfaction:

It is high time an institution brings our attention to this most important ingredient of success: Relationship. I was happy to be a part of the launch of the Pru Life Relationship Index. An index is a measurement that guides us so we know if we’re moving forward or backward. Below is the ranking of Relationship Index among the 10 countries surveyed in Asia.

To see the complete Pru Life Relationship Index result click link.
To see the complete Pru Life Relationship Index results click link.


I long for the day when big companies would take into consideration looking at the Relationship Index in determining where (which country) to put up their expansion. On top of factors such as labor cost, power and political environment, I hope that they too would look at The Relationship Index as a key indicator in their investment decision-making. After all, didn’t that long and still ongoing Harvard study say that Good relationships make us happier, healthier and more effective as workers?

Good relationships do not happen overnight, not in one big blow, not even in a few ones. They are like muscles that we need to develop. It’s in the small everyday thoughtful things, the sharing, overcoming inconveniences for other’s sake, sharing of happy and not so happy moments, the giving we do regularly that create warm relationships. I wish that we all realize their importance so that everybody’s #LifeGoals will now include GREAT RELATIONSHIPS!




  1. I wish to greet my bunso Anton who’s celebrating his birthday today away from his family (for the second time). Twenty years ago, my O.B. Gyn said I was going to give birth on Christmas eve, but I mentally convinced you and myself that the delivery will happen on December 8 (Immaculate Conception). You probably agreed with me but decided just to tweak it a little bit, just as you still do – you would still “obey me with just a little disobedience” and reason out, “Ma, that’s your style, I have my own!” 🙂 And so you came out one day earlier than Mama’s request. It has been a great Mother & Son Relationship these past two decades. You’re both my sweetest and most challenging son! 🙂 I love you Anton! Happy happy birthday my dear! anton
  2. Want to know your FQ Score, click link to take the test. Your feedback is welcome. Poster-FQ-TEst-1024x717-min

Rose Fres Fausto is a speaker and author of bestselling books Raising Pinoy Boys and The Retelling of The Richest Man in Babylon (English and Filipino versions). Click this link to read samples – Books of FQ Mom Rose Fres Fausto. She is a Behavioral Economist, Certified Gallup Strengths Coach and the grand prize winner of the first Sinag Financial Literacy Digital Journalism Awards. Follow her on Facebook and You Tube as FQ Mom, and Twitter & Instagram as theFQMom.

Attribution:, Grant Study from Wikipedia, What makes a good life? from, Fish Magazine. Photos from Pru Life UK,, Creativity103,, PNG All, Shutterstock, 123RF, Define Family Psychology put together to deliver the message of the article.