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The Good Life

Dear Colleagues:

Sometime I read a great book and realize my friends and colleagues would benefit as well if they took a little time to read that book. Enclosed is a summary by ChatGPT and of my own making, for a fantastic book, “The Good Life: Lessons from the world’s longest Scientific Study on Happiness.”

As surgeons and industry leaders, we are all time poor and constantly running in fifth gear or overdrive. This book informs as to how you can better manage relationships in business and personal life, so as to give a much better ROI (Return on Investment) on the time you spend in each.

I hope you find this useful.

Kind Regards,

Jon “JP” Warner MD

Founder, The CSS

JP: Please summarize what Robert Waldinger says about Happiness

CHAT GPT ANSWERS: Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, has conducted extensive research on happiness and well-being. While I cannot provide specific details on his latest work after my knowledge cutoff in September 2021, I can share some general insights from his well-known TED Talk and his study on adult development.

Waldinger emphasizes that true happiness and a good life are closely tied to the quality of our relationships. In his TED Talk titled "What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness," he discusses findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which is one of the longest-running studies on human happiness.

According to Waldinger, the study followed two groups of men for over 75 years, tracking their lives and well-being. The most significant conclusion from this extensive research is that good relationships are the key to happiness and health. Participants who reported having strong and supportive relationships tended to live longer, stay healthier, and experience more happiness throughout their lives.

Waldinger emphasizes that it's not just the quantity of relationships that matters, but the quality. Having close and meaningful connections with family, friends, and community is crucial. He suggests that investing time and effort into building and nurturing these relationships is one of the most important factors for leading a fulfilling life.

In summary, Waldinger's research suggests that true happiness is found in the quality of our relationships rather than in external factors such as wealth, fame, or material possessions. Cultivating and maintaining strong, meaningful connections with others is vital for a good life.

A few of my thoughts & the authors’ thoughts on “THE GOOD LIFE” (It’s worth your time to read this)

- “There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickering, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only tine for loving, and but instant, so to speak, for that.”

(Mark Twain)

- You may be the problem: “As the old saying goes, We are always comparing our insides to other people’s outsides.”

- “Our own life, after all, rarely matches the picture we’ve created in our heads of what a good life should look like”

- “…of course, the Good Life always ends in death.”

- “Good relationships keep us healthier and happier.”

- “The idea that happiness is something you achieve is a myth”

- Aristotle said more than a 1000 years ago, “we seek eudaimonia. This term refers to a state of deep well-being in which a person feels that their life has meaning and purpose.”

- “People who are more connected to family, to friends, and to community (including work), are happier and physically healthier than people who are less well connected.”

- “Lonely people live shorter lives. This includes 1 in 4 Americans.”

- “Living in the midst of a warm relationship is protective of both mind and body.”

- “Our modern, “connected” world actually creates the shadow of lowliness and social disconnection.”

- “Our way of being in the world is not set in stone, but more accurately in sand….so the ability to change our situation and ourselves is always there.”

- “The more you give to others, the greater your abundance” …this is a paradox described by Lao Tzu.

- Unfortunately, “we seem particularly bad at forecasting the benefits of relationships.”

- Culture is “invisible” to most of us.

- Most of us seek “money, achievement, and status”. This is because our “ancient brains focus on the most visible and most immediate needs.” Unfortunately, the success we create can feel like “running in circles”.

- Aristotle said “The life of money-making is one undertaken under compulsion and the wealth we seek is merely useful for the sake of something else.”

- In fact, the authors of “The Good Life” summarized many studies which all come to a similar conclusion, “money matters most at the lower levels of income where a dollar, euro, rupee, or Yuan is used to provide basic needs and a sense of security.” In fact, it is not just money that fails to make us happy but we constantly seek “the badges of ability” which is equivalent to becoming more notable as an expert.

- Maya Angelou said, “Instead for making money the most important priority, pursue the things that you love doing and then do them so well that people can’t take their eyes off you.”

- Each of us must find “a way to work with the hand we are dealt.”

- Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Serenity Prayer” is well known but usually not taken to heart:

“God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change,

Courage to change the things I can,

And wisdom to know the difference.”

- The authors of “The Good Life” concluded after studying thousands of individuals over their lifetimes that “social connection increases the likelihood of surviving in any given year more than 50%”

- It is “a biological fact that we meet all experiences, positive and negative, on the same psychological and neurological playing field in our brains.”

- Around the middle of our lives, we ask a number of common questions:

o “Am I doing well compared to others?”

o “Am I in a rut?”

o "Am I a good partner and parent? Do I have good relationships with my children?”

o “How many years do I have left?”

o “Does the life I am leading have meaning beyond myself?”

o "What people and purposes do I really care about (and how can I invest in them)?”

o "What else do I want to do?”

- Turkish proverb: “No road is long with good company."



- “Our cognitive ability to remember the past and anticipate the future is one reason why we feel so busy.” It is not due to the number of tasks we must complete, but the sheer number of things competing for our attention. This is known as “distraction” or “overstimulation.”

o “Our conscious mind cannot do more than one thing at a time”

o This creates “a time cost” at the expense of “the quality of our attention.”

o Opinion: You may have heard of the concept of “presence”. It is essential to focus sufficiently in order to be fully engaged, not just to “actively listen”, but also to focus on the task at hand, be it a surgical procedure performed by a surgeon or as a pilot landing a plane.

o “If our intention is to connect with other people, being present is what makes that possible.”

o When you interact with someone, especially if the situation creates significant emotion, “empathetic effort” is important. Ask these questions as you listen and prepare to engage:

§ “How is this person feeling?”

§ “What is this person thinking?”

§ “Am I missing something here?”

§ “How might I feel if I were in this person’s shoes?

- “There is a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.” (Leonard Cohen)

o “It is within our relationships-and especially our close relationships- that we find the ingredients of a good life.”

o “It is one of the great ironies of life (and the subject of millions of songs and films as well as literature)- that the people who make us feel the most alive and who know us best are also the people who hurt us most.”

o Are we “Reflexive or Reactive?”. Many difficulties in relationships stem from old habits.” The phrase, “Knee-jerk reaction is apt.”

- “Facing the Music vs Burying our Heads in the sand.”

o “What happens over the course of an entire life when a participant (in the Harvard study) tends to face the music (lean in), and what happens when they tend to bury their heads in the sand (avoid).

o The Harvard Study found that the negative consequences of avoiding a relationship problem were associated with poorer memory and less satisfaction in life in later years.” This is the neuro-cognitive cost of avoidance.

o There are “major advantages to being flexible”. This coping strategy makes us stronger compared with rigidity and inflexibility.


- “The world we live in is the world we create” (Shohaku Okumura, modern Buddhist teacher)

o “The old saying ‘We’re always fighting the last battle.” We may find ourselves over-reacting due to expectations of unrelated past experiences.

o “Emotions are a depth indicator for our relationships” (Just like a diver has a depth indicator for his descent into the sea)

o “Emotions drive relationships and noticing them matters.”

o “In the end, what matters most are not the challenges we face in relationships, but how we manage them.”

o “Judge each day not by the harvest you reap but the seeds you plant.” (William Arthur Ward)

o Relationships in work parallel our relationships in Life outside of work.

o “My friends are my ‘estate’. Forgive me then the avarice to hoard them (Emily Dickinson)

o “Without friends, no one would choose to live.” (Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics)


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