Is there a formula—some mix of love, work, and psychological adaptation—for a good life? For 72 years, researchers at Harvard have been examining this question, following 268 men who entered college in the late 1930s through war, career, marriage and divorce, parenthood and grandparenthood, and old age.
Consider also Christ's beatitudes. Prof. Peter Kreeft has a good lecture on these: click here.
With little doubt, modern psychology, and medicine in general, has made tremendous gains with diagnosing and helping pathology. But modern science has far less success with characterizing healthy individuals; psychology has hardly made any advancement in this since the time of Plato. This isn't surprising; empirical science which does not believe in anything that cannot be measured with an instrument can hardly be trusted to judge persons who do not display pathology. And so the Harvard study often seems to have become burdened with the various fashionable psychologically theories of the past century; but wisdom comes with age, and the researchers have rediscovered old truths, long known and yet long ignored.
Philosophers have stated that a good, flourishing, well-lived life is a happy life. Happiness is an end in itself — we don't want to be happy to get anything else, and we strive for things that will make us happy.
But what is happiness?
Since we are animals, there is a certain kind of contentment that is happiness: a life without much stress, with pleasure, with stability and general freedom from want. Hedonists think that pleasure is happiness, and our society filled with drugs, sex, and entertainment is hedonistic indeed. But the study quoted above shows that people who seek happiness in these kinds of pleasures are the least happy of all!
Since our nature is also spiritual, there is a kind of permanent happiness that is better called blessedness. Beatitude is associated with personal virtue, but not just the moral or intellectual virtues, but rather the theological virtues of faith, hope, and love. Clearly, a virtuous life can lead to what the world thinks will make someone happy, such as riches and fame, but rather Catholic moral theology teaches that these are burdens and responsibilities for which we may be rather harshly judged.
The study shows that money does not make someone happy, nor does pleasure, nor does power, nor success and fame, even though these form the core of our contemporary political, economic, and educational systems. Rather, consider instead these things which the study says help lead to happiness:
- Leisure and joy
- Love for others
You may want to view the video, which is on the same page linked to at the top. In it, the Harvard researcher states that happiness is ultimately found in love. This should not surprise us: read Pope Benedict's encyclical Deus Caritas Est.