Zen priest, Harvard researcher explains the secret to a “good life”

What makes a good life? In this moving TED Talk, Zen priest and Harvard researcher Robert Waldinger answers that question based on 75 years of data.

Sam Littlefair
4 October 2016
Robert Waldinger.
Robert Waldinger. Photo by TED.

“What makes a good life?” That’s Robert Waldinger’s driving question. Waldinger is a Zen priest and the principal researcher and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which might be the longest study of adult life ever done.

Waldinger is the fourth director of the study, which began tracking the lives of 724 men in the 1930s. For 75 years, the researchers have studied the participant’s work, home lives, health, and they’ve made one key finding: “Simply put,” writes Waldinger, “good relationships keep us happy and healthy.”

In his TED Talk, which has more than 10 million views, Waldinger outlines three key findings: social connections are good for humans, while loneliness is bad for us; the quality of your close connections is so important that it’s one of the key indicators of whether you will be happy and healthy later in life; and good relationships protect the brain.

Waldinger seems to embody the lessons of his research. Immediately after his TED Talk, he went on a three week retreat at Boundless Way Zen Temple in Worcester, MA.

“One of the most important things I’ve learned from studying the good life is that it’s never too late—now is always the right moment to re-orient yourself to what’s most important,” he wrote in a blog post about the decision. “In the swirl of an explosive TED talk moment, isn’t this the right time to do just that?”

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair

Sam Littlefair is the former editor of LionsRoar.com. He has also written for The Coast, Mindful, and Atlantic Books Today. Find him on Twitter, @samlfair, and Facebook, @samlfair.