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Henry and Rosa's daughter, Peggy, now in her 50s, is also a participant in the Study. Peggy does not know what her parents have shared with the Study because we do not want to bias her reports about her family life. Having multiple perspectives on the same family environment and the same events helps broaden and deepen the Study's data. When we dig into Peggy's file, we learn that when she was growing up, she felt her parents understood her problems, and that they helped cheer her up when she was upset. In general, she saw her parents as "very affectionate." And consistent with Henry's and Rosa's own reports about their marriage, Peggy said that her parents never considered separation or divorce.

In 1977, at age 50, Henry rated his life this way:

Enjoyment of marriage: EXCELLENT
Mood over the past year: EXCELLENT
Physical health over the past 2 years: EXCELLENT.

But we don't determine Henry's health and happiness, or anyone's in the Study, simply by asking them and their loved ones how they feel. Study participants allow us to look at their well-being through many different lenses, including everything from brain scans to blood tests to videotapes of them talking about their deepest concerns. We take samples of their hair to measure stress hormones, we ask them to describe their biggest worries and their critical goals in life, and we measure how quickly their heart rates calm down after we challenge them with brain teasers. This information gives us a deeper and fuller measurement of how someone is doing in their life.

Henry was a shy man, but he devoted himself to his closest relationships, in particular to his connection with Rosa and his children, and these connections provided him with a deep sense of security. He also employed certain powerful coping mechanisms that we will discuss in the coming pages. Building on this combination of emotional security and effective coping, Henry could report over and over again that he was "happy" or "very happy," even during his hardest times, and his health and longevity reflect that.

In 2009, five years after Charlotte's visit to Henry and Rosa's home, and seventy-one years after his first interview with the Study, Henry's greatest fear came true: Rosa passed away. Less than six weeks later, Henry followed.

But the family legacy continues in their daughter, Peggy. Just recently, she sat down for an interview at our offices in Boston. Since the age of 29 Peggy has been in a happy relationship with her partner, Susan, and now, at age 57, reports no loneliness and good health. She is a respected grade school teacher and an active member of her community. But the path she took to arrive at this happy time in her life is harrowing and courageous, and we'll be returning to her later.


What was it about Henry and Rosa's approach to life that allowed them to flourish in the face of difficulty? And what makes Henry and Rosa's story, or any of the life stories in the Harvard Study, worth your time and attention?

When it comes to understanding what happens to people as they go through life, pictures of entire lives—of the choices people make and the paths they follow, and how it all works out for them—are almost impossible to get. Most of what we know about human life we know from asking people to remember the past, and memories are full of holes. Just try to remember what you had for dinner last Tuesday, or who you spoke with on this date last year, and you'll get an idea how much of our lives is lost to memory. The more time that passes, the more details we forget, and research shows that the act of recalling an event can actually change our memory of it. In short, as a tool for studying past events, the human memory is at its best imprecise, and at its worst, inventive.

But what if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age to see what really matters to a person's health and happiness, and which investments really paid off?

We did that.

For eighty-four years (and counting), the Harvard Study has tracked the same individuals, asking thousands of questions and taking hundreds of measurements to find out what really keeps people healthy and happy. Through all the years of studying these lives, one crucial factor stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health, and longevity. Contrary to what many people might think, it's not career achievement, or exercise, or a healthy diet. Don't get us wrong; these things matter (a lot). But one thing continuously demonstrates its broad and enduring importance:

Good relationships.

In fact, good relationships are significant enough that if we had to take all eighty-four years of the Harvard Study and boil it down to a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this:

Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.

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