What the Happiest People All Have in Common

·5 min read
Photo credit: Hearst Owned
Photo credit: Hearst Owned


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We're now into our eighth month of "The Life You Want" planner, and the focus is on the importance of renewal, which is the driving topic for Oprah's latest "The Life You Want" class with Arthur Brooks, the Harvard professor who writes the Atlantic’s “How to Build a Life” columnist, and author of the New York Times bestseller From Strength to Strength: Finding Success, Happiness, and Deep Purpose in the Second Half of Life.

Oprah and Brooks, who also teaches a class in happiness at Harvard, took Insiders through his happiness equation, taught us that too much satisfaction can actually be detrimental to our health, and in the clip above, explained the results of the university's study that tracked 84 years of data and identified the "seven habits of happy, healthy, old people." Says Brooks, the research covers "a huge group of men and women of all different parts of life, different races, different religions, [and] different socioeconomics status," and followed them from "18 years old, all the way until they died."

The habits included walking an hour a day, eating healthy, and learning how to deal with worry. Brooks goes on to reveal that a researcher who oversaw the study for 30 years said he can sum up all the data about how everyone can be sure to find happiness in life in just five words. It's "the punchline of all of it," says Brooks. "Happiness is love, full stop."

Watch the clip in its entirety above, or read the full text of the moment below.

Oprah: I want to talk about love for a minute. Dr. Brooks, how does love fit into all of this? I know you know the answer.

Brooks: This is the most amazing thing. We have this incredible study at Harvard University that tracked 84 years of data over a huge group of men and women of all different parts of life, different races, different religions, different socioeconomics status, [and] it looked at from when they were 18 years old all the way until they died. It looked at all of the secrets in their life, all of the things that actually made them really healthy and happy. So, you can think of life when you're 80 or 85 or 90 as healthy or unhealthy and happy or unhappy. The most important is happy, happier is more important than healthy. But where you really want to be–where we all like to be–is happy and healthy.

Brooks
: So what the researchers looked at, at my university, is what these people who were both happy and healthy when they were old, what they were doing when they were in their twenties, and thirties, and forties, and fifties. When they were pretty young and pretty vital, what were their habits? They found that seven habits stood out. Now, some stuff you don't have control over, you could have a genetic disease or something or you can be cursed for having bad luck or whatever it happens to be. But there were seven habits that all the happy and healthy people had. This is really important–these are the seven habits of happy, healthy, old people. Okay, everybody ready? The first four are easy. Don't smoke, don't drink too much, don't eat to excess, and make sure you get proper exercise.

Brooks: Now, this is not crazy stuff. I'm not talking about the 10-hour-a-day gym rats and the yo-yo diets, I'm not talking about any of that stuff. I'm not saying eat only cardboard on Wednesdays–forget all the crazy fad stuff. I'm saying, basically, don't smoke cigarettes or anything else. If you have trouble with your drinking or you're worried about it, stop right now, or if you have a history of it in your family. When we're talking about eating, make sure that you're eating in a healthy, balanced way with your macronutrients. And, with your exercise, if you don't know where to start, this is a really easy one it turns out in the data, walk for an hour a day—Oprah walks up the mountain. And, I was walking for an hour today, too. I walk for an hour every day, I try to eat my own cooking—I take my own advice—walk for an hour a day.

Brooks: Okay, there are three left, here are the bigger three. Number one is learning how to deal with your worries and problems. Don't be a ruminator. Ruminators die young and they die unhappy. If you have trouble dealing with worries and anxieties and dealing with anger and sadness, you need to get help with that. Maybe you need to meditate, maybe you need a religious practice, maybe you need therapy, but get on it. The second of these is lifelong learning. You don't have to come to Harvard University, but you need to read for an hour a day, read something that's new to you all the time, and do it for the rest of your life, it'll keep you young.

Brooks: And, last but not least—and there's the big one, Oprah. This is the one that you and I talked about again and again and again, this is the punchline of all of it because this is the most important of all seven. The guy who ran the study for 30 years, [said] that he could sum up all the data in just five words: Happiness is love, full stop.

Watch Oprah's full “The Life You Want” class on renewal here and catch up on all of our "The Life You Want" classes here.

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