What the happiest people all have in common

We are now in our eighth month of The Life You Want Planner, and the focus is on the importance of renewal, which is the driving theme for Oprah’s latest The Life You Want course with Arthur Brooks, the Harvard professor who writes these Atlantic’s How to Build a Life columnist and author of NNew York Times best seller From strength to strength: finding success, happiness and deep purpose in the second half of life.

Oprah and Brooks, who also teach a course on happiness at Harvard, took insiders through his happiness equation, taught us that too much happiness can actually be detrimental to our health, and in the clip above explained the results of the university’s study that was being tracked 84 years of data and identified the “seven habits of happy, healthy, old people”. According to Brooks, the research “encompasses a vast group of men and women from all walks of life, different races, different religions, [and] different socioeconomic status” and followed them from “age 18 to their death”.

Habits included walking an hour a day, eating a healthy diet, and learning how to manage worry. Brooks goes on to reveal that a researcher who oversaw the study for 30 years said he could summarize all the data on how everyone can be sure to find happiness in life in just five words. It’s “the punchline of everything,” says Brooks. “Happiness is love, period.”

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


oprah: I would like to talk briefly about love. dr Brooks, how does love fit into all of this? I know you know the answer.

streams: This is the most amazing thing. We have this incredible study at Harvard University that took 84 years of data on a huge group of men and women from all different walks of life, different races, different religions, different socioeconomic statuses, [and] It looked from the age of 18 until her death. It dealt with all the mysteries in their lives, all the things that actually made them really healthy and happy. So you can think of life at 80 or 85 or 90 as healthy or unhealthy and happy or unhappy. The most important thing is happy, happier is more important than healthy. But where you really want to be – where we all love to be – is happy and healthy.

Brooks: So what the researchers at my university looked at is what these people who were happy and healthy when they were old did what they did when they were in their 20’s, 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. When they were quite young and quite vigorous, what were their habits? They found that seven habits stood out. Well, some things you have no control over, you might have a genetic disease or something or you can be cursed because of bad luck or whatever it is. But there were seven habits that all happy and healthy people had. This is really important – these are the seven habits of happy, healthy, old people. Ok, everyone ready? The first four are easy. Don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, don’t eat too much and get enough exercise.

streams: Well, this isn’t crazy stuff. I’m not talking about the 10-hour-a-day gym rats and the yo-yo diets, I’m not talking about all that stuff. I’m not saying just eat cardboard on Wednesdays – forget all that crazy fashion stuff. I’m basically saying don’t smoke cigarettes or anything else. If you have problems or are concerned about your alcohol use, stop immediately, or if you have a family history of it. When we talk about food, make sure you’re eating a healthy, balanced diet with your macronutrients. And if you don’t know where to start with your exercise, it’s really easy as the data turns out, walk an hour a day – Oprah is going up the hill. And I was out for an hour today. I walk an hour every day, I try to eat my own cooking – I take my own advice – walk an hour a day.

streams: 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 ruminant. Ruminants die young and they die unhappily. If you are struggling to deal with worry and anxiety, anger and sadness, you need help. Maybe you need to meditate, maybe you need a religious practice, maybe you need therapy, but go ahead. The second is lifelong learning. You don’t have to get into Harvard University, but you have to read an hour a day, always read something new for you and do that for the rest of your life, it will keep you young.

streams: And finally – and there’s the big one, Oprah. That’s what you and I have been talking about over and over, that’s the gist of it all, because that’s the most important thing of all seven. The guy who ran the study for 30 years [said] that he could sum up all the dates in five words: Happiness is love, period.


View Oprah’s full Life You Want renewal course here, and find out about all of our Life You Want courses here.

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