Marc schulz the good life Marc schulz the good life
Podcast 426

426: The Good Life: How The Meaning of Happiness Has Shifted Over the Last 85 Years with Marc Schulz, PhD

Today, I’m talking to Marc Schulz, PhD. In addition to being a practicing therapist, Dr. Schulz is the Associate Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, Director of the Data Science program at Bryn Mawr, and former chair of that school’s psychology and clinical development psychology PhD programs.

In this conversation, we dig into his book that he co-authored, The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness. I’ve been following this study for most of my career, we’ve referenced it several times on the podcast and I’m thrilled to get a chance to talk to him about it.

In today’s deep dive into the study of happiness, we get into what he’s learned in the twenty years he’s been involved in this program, how he defines the “good life” and what it truly means to be happy, and why we need relationships of all kinds to thrive in our modern world and enjoy a “good life.”

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In this podcast interview, you’ll learn:
  • How the Harvard Study of Adult Development changed the way Dr. Schulz shows up in the world and what he does on a daily basis.
  • Why the meaning of happiness has shifted over the last 85 years.
  • What makes humans so bad at knowing what’s good for them and what will make them happy.
  • Why relationships and connectedness are so critical to our long-term well-being.
  • How to get off autopilot and be more intentional in the relationships you care most about.
  • What the WISER model is–and how to use it to address and solve challenges in life.
Inspiring Quote
  • "Life is limited. We all have a limited time on Earth. So, watching other people's lives and seeing the choices they've made has really made it very real for me, the kind of preciousness of life and the opportunities that we have." - Marc Schulz
  • "We figure out our identities in relationships. They're the source of our most intense moments of joy. So, if we think about when we experience our happiest moments in life, for most of us, that's connected to being with other people." - Marc Schulz
  • "Relationships are important for all of us. They're kind of like food. We all need it. It's just the flavor of the relationships, the form it takes differs across people." - Marc Schulz
  • "So, the idea about facing the music first is really when we look at the folks that thrived in our study over these 85 years, generally, it's people that lean into challenges as opposed to denying that they exist or saying everything's fine when it's not." - Marc Schulz
Interview Resources
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Read the Transcript

Casey Weade: Welcome to the Retire With Purpose Podcast. My name is Casey Weade, where it is my mission to deliver clarity and purpose and elevate meaning in your life. And if you're new to the show, I want you to know exactly what that means and what to expect as you go on this journey with us. We're going to talk both about the financial and non-financial aspects of retirement and finances and life. And today we're going to be focusing on happiness. We have won over a world-class guest with us but every single Friday, you'll also notice we do a short-form podcast. So, we deliver to you typically around our Weekend Reading for Retirees email articles. Those are trending topics that can impact your bottom line. In retirement, you have to get signed up for that free resource, get those articles delivered to your inbox with summaries and takeaways for myself every single Friday along with all types of other invaluable resources that we're going to put in your inbox every single Friday.

It's one email a week, so don't worry about getting overwhelmed. And it's super easy to get signed up at or just text us WR to 866-482-9559. And as I said, today's long form. So, every other Monday we bring to you a world-class guest. And as a Weekend Reading subscriber, the cool thing you have the opportunity to do is help co-architect these interviews with me as we reach out to you as a subscriber prior to these interviews and ask you to submit your personal questions to our guest. I'm going to bring several of those conversational questions into the conversation here today with our guest, Dr. Marc Schulz.

Dr. Schulz is the Associate Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development and is also director of the Data Science program and previously chaired the Psychology Department and Clinical Developmental Psychology PhD program at Bryn Mawr. He received his BA from Amherst College and a PhD in Clinical psychology from UC Berkeley and is a practicing therapist. Our focus of the conversation today will be a book that he co-authored, The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, which is our focus today. We're also going to be giving away free copies of The Good Life. So, if you'd like to get your free copy, it's super easy. Just subscribe to the podcast and then rate and review the podcast on the podcast app. And then just shoot us a text. Text us the word ‘BOOK’ to 866-482-9559. We'll send you a link to get your free book after we verify that iTunes username.


Casey Weade: With that, I'd like to welcome you to the podcast. Marc, welcome.

Marc Schulz: Thank you. Pleasure to be with you, Casey.

Casey Weade: I'm excited to have you here, Marc. This is a study that I've followed I feel most if not all of my career. We've talked about it on the podcast over and over again. We featured several of your articles and writings in our Weekend Reading emails every Friday. And I finally said, "Why don't we just bring him on the show and we can take a deep dive into this study?” So, really excited to have you here. But before we get into this study, get into the research, I know this has been a true passion of yours and something you talk about is your experience growing up and growing up in a household that was somewhat divided. You had divorced parents. It's like myself and you grew up in two very different cultures. When you think about the way that you grew up and those two cultures that you grew up in, how have those lessons been applied to your work and your passion around the study?

Marc Schulz: I think it's true that all of us are influenced by our early experiences, and our families are really important. It's a legacy we carry into adulthood, and I'm no different. So, my parents did divorce when I was quite young when I was two years old. Both got remarried. I was the oldest and only child in that first marriage. I now have three siblings from those second marriages. And it felt to me like I was growing up in two worlds. They were very different households. So, my mom and dad, it's sort of remarkable. They stayed together for three years. They're very different people, and the families they ended up building were very different from each other. So, I think in some ways working to figure out how to navigate those two worlds was the origins of my interest in learning about people's experiences and how their environments affect who they are.

So, I've really been curious from my early childhood and trying to pay attention to those differences and try and take advantage of them as well. So, in hindsight, I feel like I've been enriched by those two environments, and it's allowed me to think about how people function differently in different environments and how those environments contribute to people's views of life. But they were really different, those two families.

Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, and I'm sure, as you stated, that shaped who you are today. Give the audience a little bit of an idea of how long you've been focused on this study of happiness and the impact that that's made in your life.

Marc Schulz: Yeah. So, I graduated from graduate school in 1994. When is that? 30 years ago now. Seems like yesterday. And in graduate school, I started working on one of these longitudinal study. So, a longitudinal study is a study that follows people across time. The one I did in graduate school, followed people across the transition to parenthood, and two, when that first child entered kindergarten. So, it's a kind of period of life early in that kind of family development life span. And then after that, I started working on another longitudinal study that had followed kids from adolescence into early adulthood. And about 20 years ago, my colleague, Bob Waldinger, and I, Bob is the person I wrote the book The Good Life with, joined this study, the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which had already been in existence for 65 years. So, this is his 86th year actually we're now in. So, I've been involved in this study for about 20 years now.

Casey Weade: Well, we have to know, are you happier?

Marc Schulz: Because of being involved in the study?

Casey Weade: What impact has it made? I mean, just being around this kind of thing and immersed in it for so much of your life and especially the last 20 years. What did you do? Did it change the way that you show up in the world? Did it change the way that you think of the things that you do on a daily basis?

Marc Schulz: It has really changed the way I think about things and what I do. So, I consider myself to be incredibly fortunate. We should describe the study a little bit. This is a study that's been going on for 85 years. It’s followed people really closely. Originally, there are 724 participants, all in the Boston area. Two-thirds of those participants were adolescents growing up in the poorest neighborhoods of Boston, most of them came from immigrant families, lived in tenement buildings. I think more than half grew up without running water in their tenement apartment. So, they were growing up in real poverty, facing real challenges. The remaining one-third were students at Harvard University, perched in a very different place. And both those groups, all 724 of those, initially all male folks were followed throughout their life span into young adulthood, into middle age, and to the end of their life, and followed really intensively, regular interviews, questionnaires, visits to their homes.

So, this is an incredibly rich data set. And I should add that along the way, the wives of participants became members of the study, and we're now studying more than 1,300 of their adult children, what we call the second generation. That's a study that's incredibly rich with stuff of daily life and people's lived experience and it's allowed me to dig deep to see how other people have lived their lives, the aspirations they may have had when they were adolescents, and how that turned out for them in adulthood, getting to see how people change throughout their lifespan. So, yes, I feel very fortunate. And the answer to your question, my long-winded answer to your question is, yes, it's really changed my life in important ways. So, it's made me realize how precious life is. Things happen that we don't expect. When things are going well, often we encounter challenges. And of course, life is limited. We all have a limited time on Earth. So, watching other people's lives and seeing the choices they've made has really made it very real for me, the kind of preciousness of life and the opportunities that we have.

Casey Weade: Now, there was a pretty good blend of at least males at the onset of this research study, and you had some big names in there, John F. Kennedy being one of those original participants. I'm curious. The original study started with males, and then you started integrating the spouses into the study. At what point did the spouses become part of the study?

Marc Schulz: So, the spouses were always of interest. They were queried in different ways, starting probably in the 1950s. But when Bob and I became involved 20 years ago, we really made an effort to bring them fully on board as full participants. They told us it was about time that the study paid attention to them. So, the study…

Casey Weade: Well, that’s why I wondered. I mean, looking at the research over the years, well, maybe it would have been quite a bit different. The results would have been quite a bit different. It wasn't all males at the onset but maybe you integrated the females into the study early enough to have plenty of good data to extract.

Marc Schulz: So, really important question here and partly, I want to acknowledge that all studies have limitations. And one of the limitations of our study is it’s a particular sample. It has diversity in terms of socioeconomic backgrounds and immigrant status. These are folks facing real challenges, two-thirds of that sample at the beginning of the study. But there were no women to start with. It's also a particular period of time. These folks were born in the 1920s, most of them. So, we need to always be cautious about taking results from one study and not being critical about them. So, in The Good Life, our book, what we did is we worked very hard to look at what the common findings were across 85 years of our study, and to look at how that reconciled with other important findings in the field. Was there consistency across studies? And that's the gold standard for science. That's what we call replication.

So, the question you're asking is really important. Might results have been different if we had women from the very beginning? Might it have been different if we started the study today and follow people now for 85 years? It's possible. And the way that we answer that question is we look at other studies that have different samples, different methods, occur in different countries, have folks from different ancestries. So, we're looking for replication regardless of the method, regardless of the sample. And most of the findings that I'm going to talk to you about that we feature in The Good Life are findings that are true across all of those divisions, across age, across gender, across ancestry.

Casey Weade: Did all of these individuals that were in the study from the onset know that they were in a study about happiness? And if they did know that they were in a study about happiness, what kind of impact do you think that made in the way that they showed up and just how happy they were? I feel like if I knew I was in a study about happiness, I'm going to show up differently. I'm going to make sure I'm happy. But maybe that's just the competitive nature in me.

Marc Schulz: I was going to say you're a good participant, a kind participant. I would say that, first of all, the meaning of happiness has shifted over the last 85 years. So, in the beginning, they didn't use the word happiness to describe the study. They were interested in what they talked about is human thriving or flourishing. So, in both samples, very different places in life, right, situated in very different places with different opportunities and challenges. But they are interested in what makes people thrive under those circumstances. And thriving included well-being and things like happiness but it also included physical well-being as well. So, the participants in both studies knew they were part of a study that was trying to figure out how people did well in life. The folks in the inner city sample, particularly their parents, couldn't figure out why anyone would be interested in them and expressed surprise that researchers from Harvard were coming out to the poorest areas of Boston and coming into their living rooms and interviewing them. The men at Harvard thought, "Of course, people want to study us. We're already kind of on top of the world, and we're going to continue to be.”

So, JFK was one of the most famous participants. The other participants are private. We've kept their identities confidential. But there are a number of very important folks in industry and politics. JFK was not the only one. So, a bunch of highly successful men from the Harvard sample, some very successful folks from the inner city sample, but they faced many more challenges, yeah, than the other sample.

Casey Weade: When you're conducting this research, it might help to talk a little bit about what those interviews looked like and the different factors that were really examined over the years.

Marc Schulz: Yeah. Really important. And what I want to say is the study is incredibly rich and deep in their attempt to understand lives. So, there's an enormous amount of data. So, I'll start with some of the silly kinds of things they collected data on. So, they examined how ticklish the men were. And we're not exactly sure why. And there's no evidence that that predicts anything of any importance. So, this was a study that took some gambles on the kinds of data that they collected but they collected a massive amount of data. So, we have file drawers full of data on each participant started with interviews, and they were in-depth interviews to try and understand what made the participants tick, what was important to them, what they worried about when they were teens and young adults, what they aspired to do, where they saw themselves in the future, what their families were like, what their prospective partners might be like, how close they were to friends.

It was really an in-depth and broad survey through interviews and through questionnaires. Family members also filled out questionnaires. We interviewed the family members as well, observed the kids with their families interacting. And then roughly every five years, we collected medical data, every two years, more questionnaires, very extensive ones. Some open-ended questions, some more traditional psychological measures of well-being, and attitudes and beliefs that they go to church. What was their job like? Really, almost any question you can imagine. More modern times, the last two decades, we're scanning their brains as they're doing challenging tasks in the lab. We're pulling blood assays from them, taking blood to try and look at immunological functioning, markers of inflammation, what we call epigenetic effects, how genes get turned on and off in response to stress and other things in your environment, observing them, interacting with their spouses.

So, these are a group of people, all 724, and now there are 1,300 children that have been poked and prodded and observed in countless ways. The question you asked was whether it's made them happier or changed them. And what they tell us, we've asked them, is that it's made them more reflective about their life, that this was a generation in particular that wasn't encouraged to talk about their experience and to share very personal stories with other people. The men at Harvard, for example, 90% of them served in World War II but they didn't talk about it much after they came back from the war. But they talked to us about it. So, what they said is it was helpful to check in in this regular way. It gave them a chance to reflect on their experience, to think about their priorities. And they said that it was helpful in their way. And in fact, that was one of the motivations when we wrote our book, The Good Life, was to bring this kind of check-in to people who weren't in the study because we think it can be helpful for others as well. Not the massive amount of questionnaires but a trimmed-down version of that.

Casey Weade: As we're getting into this conversation that just hit me that we never really defined what we're trying to uncover. And I think we say happiness but happiness means different things to different people. The book is titled The Good Life. How exactly do you define the good life and happiness?

Marc Schulz: So, the good life is somewhat subjective, right? It depends on what's important to us. But for most people, the good life includes a sense of meaning and purpose that what I'm doing gives me a sense of meaning, a reason to get up in the morning. That's what we mean by a sense of purpose and meaning. And there are two aspects of happiness that we try and study. One is the kind of moment-to-moment lived experience. So, happy people experience more joy and pleasure, those positive emotions, and relatively fewer moments of negative emotion. But they also have an overriding sense that life is good. It's a sense of satisfaction with life. So, we're interested in people's reports about those things, but we also interviewed loved ones. We observe them interacting with important people in their life.

So, we try and get at this idea of happiness or well-being, which are important parts of the good life, by observing people, watching how they respond to stress, for example, in the lab. We have them do a public speaking task. We tell them to imagine they're applying for a job, and we have cameras there and people who look like they're reading them as they're talking. It makes most people quite nervous. That's the most common stressor used to stress people out in the lab. And we watch how they do it physiologically and the kinds of emotions that they report over time. We're particularly interested in how quickly they recover and how agitated they get when they're stressed. So, the answer is we really get at this in a multitude of ways. Much of that has to do with their own reports but we don't rely exclusively on their own reports.

Casey Weade: And one of our guests, one of our first guests on the podcast years ago, we’re talking 400 plus episodes ago was John Leland from the New York Times. He wrote a book, Happiness is a Choice You Make. How do you think about that? Did you find - is happiness a choice?

Marc Schulz: Yeah. I think to a certain extent, happiness is a choice, which is not to say that there aren't things like genes that are important. Some evidence from research is that genes may shape about 50% of our experience of happiness. And depending on your outlook, 50% might sound like a lot or it might be a sign that there's an opportunity that we all have. 40% to 50% may be under our control and, to me, that's an optimistic view that means that there are a lot of things that we can do in our daily life that don't have to do with our genes and importantly, don't have to do also with our childhood experiences or the poverty that we were born into. There are things that all of us can do to shape our own daily experiences, including happiness. And I think that's what research suggests. That's certainly what our research shows.

Casey Weade: One of the things you say in the book is that humans are just inherently bad at knowing what's good for them and what makes them happy. What do you mean by that? Why are we so bad at figuring this part out?

Marc Schulz: It's a really interesting area. So, in psychology, there's been kind of a whole broad area of research on decision-making that people do. And this started in the 80s. That was when I was in graduate school. I happened to encounter some of the folks that were doing this research. And the thrust of the research is that we weren't always logical decision-makers. Initially, a lot of the tasks that people were making decisions about were kind of logical things like, do you take a gamble when you're in a betting game? So, it was kind of calculating odds in your head or doing kind of math. And people make mistakes when they calculate the odds and some good thing happening, like getting a payoff and some sort of game of chance. We also found that when we asked people what's going to make you happy that they don't get it right often. So, the best example I'm going to maybe describe a story is the best way to tell it.

There was a really cool study that was done in Chicago. So, in Chicago, people commute mainly by the elevator train, commonly known as the L. Sometimes they take the bus. And a group of psychologists went in and interviewed people as they were about to commute and they said, "What are you going to do on your commute?” And people said, “I usually kind of zone out.” Maybe a few of them said, “I listened to a podcast or a book on tape or some music.” Most people said they were going to zone out or just kind of chill on their commute. “Do you ever talk to people on the commute?” And this is in the Midwest, really important, right? So, the Chicagoans said, "No, I would never do that.” “Why not?” “Because people would find it intrusive. They wouldn't want to talk to me. It wouldn't be a good experience.”

Psychologists do cruel things and they randomly assigned half of the participants to talk to people on their commute, the other half to do what they usually do. They had already asked them how they're feeling. They caught them at the end of the commute, and they said, "How are you feeling now?” And the people who were randomly assigned to talk to strangers reported a lift in their mood. They felt better. Why did they feel better? They talked about a jolt of connection with someone other than themselves. They realized the world is larger than themselves. Most of them reported more energy. So, this is an example of what we call affective forecasting. That's forecasting about our emotions. People say that talking to others might make them feel less happy or even miserable.

We don't talk to people on planes because we're afraid we're going to get stuck in a hard conversation, and there's nowhere to go. Right? People have all sorts of ideas about basically being rejected, and they don't think they're cool enough to have that conversation. And what people find when they talk to strangers is they feel better. So, that's just one example of how the voice in our head tells us to do one thing, and it's often not the healthiest thing for us.

Casey Weade: And it seems that when you read the book and look at the research, we've got an 80-plus year study and you study all these different factors, medical factors, family factors, genetic factors. And it all seems to boil down to this one thing, which you kind of touched on there, which is connectedness or good relationships, as you say. So, if the key to happiness is good relationships, how do you define a good relationship?

Marc Schulz: Yeah. So, first of all, I want to kind of highlight how important it is to come up with such a clear and simple conclusion. Bob, my coauthor of The Good Life, and I are scientists. We're very cautious. We qualify everything we say in our research. So, when we started to write this book, we looked at the hundreds of papers from the study across its 85 years, and we looked at thousands and thousands of papers from across the world. And we said, "Are we at the point where we can say this simple statement: relationships keep us happier and healthier throughout the lifespan?” And the answer was yes. It was a resounding yes. The research is there. It's very clear. It's not just what we think about as a correlation that the two things are linked. It's very clear when you look across research with animals and humans that good relationships cause us to be happier and healthier.

So, what is a good relationship? A good relationship is one in which we have trust with the other person. Particularly important that someone who we know we can rely on when we're facing adversity. So, in the study, we asked folks at one point, who can you call in the middle of the night if you're scared or sick? It's important to have at least one person. It's great if you have more than one person. A good relationship is one in which you exchange a certain amount of intimacy, meaning things that may be private and make you feel vulnerable but are important to you that you feel comfortable enough sharing that with the other person. That person is there for other kinds of support other than just adversity. Maybe it's getting a ride to the doctor or advice about which kind of pants to get for a particular new occasion at work or something like that. So, close relationships enable us to function better in our world, particularly around stress. They also give us a sense of who we are.

We figure out our identities in relationships. They're the source typically of our most intense moments of joy. So, if we think about when we experience our happiest moments in life, for most of us, that's connected to being with other people. So, relationships are important and the best relationships, the high-quality relationships, have those kinds of features in them, Casey.

Casey Weade: Do you delineate between good relationships and connectedness? Are they one and the same?

Marc Schulz: Well, yeah. So, we can experience connectedness, for example, with that person on the train. Like, I can have an incredible conversation in that five minutes I'm commuting on the bus to work with someone and I can think about it. Even the next day, I can think about it hoping that I'll see that person again so I can have that conversation. That's a moment of connection. A relationship is something more sustained, and we all have different kinds of relationships. So, we kind of have an ecosystem of relationships, and we might have the closest relationships at the core. And then we have folks who are more peripheral that we don't see as much but may be important to us, maybe folks we work with, maybe cousins that we don't see on a regular basis, but we really enjoy seeing at family reunions. So, that's the distinction that I would make. Connectedness is like a state. We can extend that so we can feel quite connected generally in the world. And the folks who feel connected are the folks who are more likely to thrive in the world.

Casey Weade: I think what I love about what you said for someone like myself that considers himself an introvert, I'm that guy that's on the plane, put my headphones on and put my head down, and read my book. I don't want to get into a conversation but I don't think it's always about the conversation as much as you said just putting yourself around other people. I mean, there's proximity to other individuals as well that have a lot of benefits to eliminate loneliness and ultimately elevate happiness. It doesn't have to be this, “I am an extrovert. I have to go have this uncomfortable conversation.” There's some element of proximity being true to this as well, where we don't have to maybe have deep relationships or connectedness, but we really just need to be around other humans.

Marc Schulz: I think that's right. That's a kind of neat observation, Casey. So, the pandemic made this quite plain when we came back from the physical isolation and people were together in the same room. I'm at a university. I've been teaching for 30 years. When we came together again, not on Zoom but in a room together, I think people felt something magical even before they talked to each other. Just being near other people, watching their bodies move, doing things in some collective way and with some collective purpose is really important. But I think you're raising another issue, which many people wonder about. I'm introverted. The stuff about relationships doesn't really apply to me because I do better when I'm alone. Relationships are important for all of us. They're kind of like food. We all need it. It's just the flavor of the relationships, the form it takes differs across people.

So, for introverts, it may be more time recovering or being alone, which allows people to decompress and is often restorative and it means probably more one-on-one or small group interactions as opposed to for extroverts who might thrive with more louder settings and lots of people. But introverts also need connections, right? So, I'm just going to note, Casey, a self-proclaimed introvert who does a podcast and talks to you said it's the 400th podcast you've done already this past year. So, you've interviewed and talked to lots of people. And I imagine even as an introvert, that connection that you get when you're talking to your guests and thinking about that connection and figuring out how to help them be comfortable and thrive in front of your audience, that's something that you enjoy as well. That's a kind of connection, right?

Casey Weade: I think just what I've found is putting myself in situations with other humans that make me uncomfortable, I always walk away happier at the end of that. I feel more fulfilled. I always figured out, well, I'm happier because I'm doing something that's hard for me, and I did it. And there's a factor of like overcame a fear but I think there's also this probably bigger element, which is I really went out of the limb. I created a new connection and started developing a good relationship.

Marc Schulz: I think that's right. I love that distinction. So, yeah, we do get happy when we succeed in something that's challenging for us, but I think we tend to underestimate how important relationships are to us. So, that connection that we feel, if it's with a stranger or with someone that we're close to, that recognition that we understand another person, or even better, that we're understood by someone else is pretty magical and pretty important for us. And most of life is really hard to do without other people. So, we're social creatures. We've evolved to be social. And in this modern world, we figured out ways that we can isolate from each other. The new technologies allow us to work from home, which has great benefits, but it also presents challenges because we're not with other people as much. Certainly, that physical proximity that we talked about is absent in many people's lives these days.

Casey Weade: You know what I found from a lot of our Weekend Reading subscribers, these questions were submitted over the last week or so, a lot of these questions seem to circulate around the details of a good relationship. How many friends do I need to have? What kind of relationships do I need to have? How often do I need to see them? What's that interaction need to look like? And so, I think we can get into some of these more details around the relationships by jumping into a couple of the questions that were submitted from subscribers. And the first one comes from Ray. Ray, thanks for your question. Ray says, "Does an active relationship with the animals on our hobby farm help meet this need adequately along with our church outing each Sunday? So, what kind of relationships? Does it have to be a human? And then if I do this once a week and I get to see people once a week, is that enough?” Is it enough? Isn’t that the natural disposition of humans to go, "Am I doing enough? Do I need to do a little bit more?”

Marc Schulz: Well, first of all, I love the question from Ray and I'll answer it. What I want to say is the great thing is that your listeners are thinking about it, right? That we're not just living life on autopilot. We're sitting back and reflecting about what's important, what's the best way to navigate, and I applaud that. That's really important. So, animals are great. Lots of research that being with a pet or in this case, it sounds like having a farm in which you have animals has advantages. And some of the advantages are very similar to human connection. We can have physical contact with those animals. We feel a sense of purpose, helping to take care of them and watching out for their well-being. They can sense when we're down, often animals, and they'll often try and respond in a way that tries to pick up the human. That's certainly true of dogs, who people find are really good pets.

This is the good and the bad. Animals don't talk back to us, which has some real advantages but there are also some disadvantages there. So, one of the advantages, if I talk to a buddy or I talk to my wife about a challenge that I'm having, is that person may challenge the view that I have of this situation. They might say, my wife might say, “Marc, you're not thinking about this right. This is an opportunity, not a challenge here. It's not the end of the road for you. This is a real opportunity. You're missing one important piece of that.” So, they may challenge our view. They may help us think about a path forward that we hadn't thought about before. And that's where animals can't do the same as humans, right? So, they're terrific. The companionship they provide. That physical contact that you can have with the animal is really important, but there are also limits there.

Churchgoing is a great topic. Like, there's a lot of studies that suggest that folks who are more religious are slightly more happy than folks who are not religious. And probably one big piece of the boost we get from religion is the traditional way in which we go to a church or a synagogue or a mosque that we go into a community, we sit with others. Casey, it's that idea about being in physical proximity. Often when you pray, you do things in concert with other people. I think that's a reminder, again, that there's a world bigger than ourselves that gets us out of our heads, which is really important. And there are moments before church/after church where we tell people about how the week went, some of the challenges that we may be experiencing. We may celebrate achievements in our family or milestones. So, those are wonderful things. In terms of the frequency of contact or the number of friends, it's really individual. So, introverts need fewer friends for sure. Their social circles are smaller. Research suggests that more is often better, and I think that's probably because of two reasons.

One is that better to have more than one person we can rely on because if that other person is stressed or sick, we can't find anyone else if that's the only person in our life. So, it's nice to have backups and additional people and people bring new perspectives, each person. And the other reason is that the big difference when we look at more is better, the big difference is between 0 and 1. So, there are huge numbers of people that report being lonely in the world today, meaning that they have no one that they can rely on. No one really knows who they are or seems to care who they are. So, if we can go from that to having someone in our life, that's the biggest boost some studies suggest. And after that, it becomes gravy. It becomes kind of insurance and maybe enriching our lives by the unique things that each person might bring to the table.

Casey Weade: It seems like the question, well, how happy do you want to be? We just want to suffice, “Hey, I've got some friends. I'm happy.” Well, it doesn't sound like there's necessarily a plateau. You know, we talk about money and income and a lot of those happiness studies around how much income will make you happy. And it seems like the research is quite conflicting. They'll say, "Well, it's $75,000 a plateau. It’s $150,000 plateaus.” And then you'll see other says, “Actually, it's exponential. The more money you have, just continue to get happier and happier.” And I would think with relationships, I would think the more you have, it's not going to hurt you but maybe there are some diminishing returns as is with wealth.

Marc Schulz: I think there is an idea that there may be a place that you can get a kind of a place in which you have support. You have people that you can have fun with, go out, and enjoy yourself when you want to forget about other challenges in your life. And most importantly, have that connection that someone has sort of got your back. And it may be a group. I'm friendly with some guys I went to high school with. We continue to be friends and we do reunions sort of almost every other year. We go someplace to be together and we provide support for each other. So, it doesn't have to be one person. It could be a group that you're a part of. Maybe it's a book club that you're a part of or a knitting club or a sports team that you're part of. But that number is different for all of us. That's the subjective part. And I love this idea, Casey, that you're talking about. Life is short. We don't want to just suffice. We want to thrive. And people often thrive through their connections.

So, if Ray were on, I'd ask Ray, is he happy with that? It doesn't matter what I think. Is he happy with the animals and the once-a-week outing to church? Or is he feeling a little lonely in his life? Is there someone he lives with? That's what I'm curious about, right? When he's working on the farm and living at home, does he have a family there that he spends time with? That's an important part we don't know about here.

Casey Weade: You mentioned technology earlier, and this is a question that comes up quite often as technology becomes more integrated with our lives and our families continue to spread apart. Our chief purpose officer, our retirement coach here at Howard Bailey moved here from Texas and his kids are now spread across the country. He doesn't have his family in close proximity. So, he's leveraging technology to try to feel more connected with that family. Whether that's FaceTime or Apple games and different things that they're doing to feel more connected. And I think that ties in well with the question from Steve. Is there a difference if you're utilizing digital relationships versus in-person relationships when it comes to older individuals? So, what are the pros and cons of the technology? Can we suffice through the use of technology?

Marc Schulz: Yeah. This is an important and it's a complicated question. So, we're still figuring out these new technologies. There's no question they're incredibly important in situations where you're distant from people that you care about. During the pandemic, they were life-saving for many people in terms of being able to connect when we could be physically present with others. Those video media technologies were so important to our well-being. So, they bring many advantages, but they bring challenges. And this is like any technology. So, we can picture when newspapers were kind of the most important form of communication. People get on the trolleys in the old days, and they'd open up their newspaper right in front of them and people would complain, “I don't get to see anyone on the trolley. They're not talking to me. It's like they're in their private world.” That sounds like our headphones right of today.

So, we need to figure out how to be creative and to maximize the benefits of these technologies and to minimize some of the challenges. So, the challenges I'm sure your audience is well acquainted with. We talk about them mainly for young people but I think these are challenges that older people face as well. A lot of people use social media as a pathway for comparing themselves to others. So, in the old days, we used to compare ourselves to the Jones family down the street. We had to go outside. We had to look at their house. Was it well painted? What car were they driving? Now, we go online and we compare anywhere in the world. We can compare ourselves to others that are putting online a very particular and curated version of their lives. It's the best parties, the best outfits. They're always having fun and our life never compares well to that.

So, that's one of the challenges for technology, and we need to figure out each of us how to avoid those kinds of pernicious social comparisons. And the social media companies need to create a kind of ecosphere in which maybe those are less likely to happen. It's particularly problematic for young women and young adolescent girls but I think these social comparisons happen throughout the lifespan, and older folks are also vulnerable to it. We know that digital communication when we talk to people via Zoom or any of the video media technologies, it's different. We only see people's face and torsos. And as lovely as that is, if it's a grandchild that you don't get to see regularly, you don't get to see that whole body moving that we love, particularly a young kid when they're kind of free and running. It's nice to be in the same room. The emotions are blunted, so it's harder to both feel close to the other person and that's synchrony in body language matching that we get when we're in person, it's much harder to do over Zoom.

So, what we're finding as people report being not as close and the emotions are dampened, people might say, "That's great. My family is complicated. Emotions dampen. Sounds good,” but emotions are how we connect with each other. So, there are trade-offs to these technologies. And again, we have to be creative. The technology companies are working on this but I would say that virtual communications are a wonderful thing. They're not a complete substitute though for in-person connections. Having a hug, being next to someone you're really close to, being able to see all of them, there are real advantages of that. So, we need to balance that. This is true in the workplace as well, right? How do we balance convenience of working off-site and being electronically connected with being on-site and sure, wasting a little more time not being as efficient but having those opportunities to connect over coffee or at the water cooler or in the hallways? We're losing those opportunities in workplaces.

Casey Weade: Yeah. I think there's a question that you asked or that you would have asked Ray had he been here that really applies to a lot of these questions. And another great question from Dave that had to do with saying, "Hey, we have a few really close friends and we're happy. Do we really need to do more? How many more friends do we need to have?” And just going back to saying, "Well, Dave, are you happy? Are you happy?” There's subjectivity to happiness. There isn't a strict formula. However, I will say I think a lot of these things can be addressed with a really helpful tool. I found it really helpful already, having made applications to my relationships by leveraging the Social Universe tool that you gave us, and I wanted to have you talk a little bit about that Social Universe tool and how someone can take that tool to elevate their happiness through their relationships.

Marc Schulz: Yeah. So, this reminds me, your question reminds me I'm sort of having a flashback to when I first went to graduate school in psychology. My dad said, “I don't know, Marc. Psychologists make people talk about and think about things that maybe you shouldn't spend as much time thinking about and talking about.” So, in our book, The Good Life, we're really advocating that people reflect on their experience, that they take stock of how they're doing. And we talk about the health of our social connections as a kind of form of fitness. So, we talk about social fitness, and we say that just like physical fitness, we need to attend to it and be proactive about it. It's such an important part of our overall health that we need to reflect. So, the questions that your viewers, your audiences sort of submitting are about thinking about things, are they enough? So, one tool for doing this is just a very simple, it's like a two-dimensional space.

And on one dimension, you can think about the frequency of your interactions with others so from people I only see once a year or every other year to people that I see every day. So, it's frequency of connections. And then on the other axis, the other dimension, people should be thinking about, is this experience enriching? Is it energizing? Do I come away from it feeling kind of better, happier, more energized? Or is it depleting in some ways? Perhaps it's filled with tension or some animosity in there. And if you just use those two dimensions, you can begin to map all of the relationships in your life and use that as a tool to kind of assess your social fitness. So, you want to have frequent, energizing relationships in your life. Those are the kinds of connections that we're after. So, maybe you have a friend that fits in that sphere but maybe I have another friend or a cousin that you really like energizing, but you don't get to see very often. So, there's a fix for that.

You have to get on the phone with your cousin. You got to figure out a time regularly that you can meet if it has to be by technology, video media technology or phone, so be it. If your cousin’s in the vicinity, maybe it's a lunch or an outing you can do on a regular basis. So, we need to assess where people are in that social universe, and then begin to take steps to enrich the number of energizing and frequent interactions that we have. And of course, we need to think about those depleting connections that we have as well. Are they with people that are really important to you? Is this a person who might be willing to work with you to make this a relationship that is more satisfying or is it a person that has in the past hurt you and has no interest in working on the relationship? And if that's the case, then you may need to say goodbye to that connection if it's not critical to you and your life. So, it's that kind of reflection as opposed to being on automatic pilot that's really critical.

In our study, when folks were in their 80s, we asked them about their potential regrets in their life. Everyone had regrets. And the most common regret by far was about relationships that had grown more distant or hadn't been kept up, or how people behaved in relationships. So, I wish I had stayed close to a college roommate who was really important to me. I wish I had been kinder to someone in my life, a friend, my wife, my son, my daughter, my parent. So, when people look back at their life towards the end of their life, as they're older, they often have regrets about not cultivating and maintaining those relationships. So, we can address that by working on our social fitness, asking the questions that your audience is asking. It's great.

Casey Weade: Oh, I wish I would have had this tool sooner. Yeah, I've seen that. I have taken actions and running through this, over the years, but not really in this format. I think I would have taken action much quicker in some of my relationships had I done this. Like one of the things I looked at as I was plotting the frequency of relationships and are they energizing or they depleting was, "Wow. I have a really great friend that really energizes me. We don't spend enough time together.” So, as soon as I did this that day, I said, "Hey, we're getting dinner.” We went and had dinner and then I said, “I want to spend more time together. I find this energizing.” He goes, “I do too. We need to figure this out. We need to figure out how to spend more time together.” And like, gosh, how easy is this? It's not that challenging. So, luckily, I didn't find that I have a lot of depleting relationships that are high frequency. Most of those are very low frequency.

But if you were to chart this for me a couple of years ago, then I would have had some very high-frequency relationships that were depleting that I have strategically moved somewhere else. But I think looking at it going, "Oh, I need to increase the frequency here, downshift the frequency here.” And I'm looking and I go, "Wow, I don't really have that many good relationships that I have high frequency with. I actually don't have that many relationships with deep relationships with that many people. Wow. I need to figure out how to put more dots on this chart.

Marc Schulz: That's right. And what we also know from watching people across their lifespan, remember, 724 people studied for over 85 years is that our relationships change so our social universe evolves, just like you're describing, Casey. And there are things that we can do about it. So, I'm thinking about your audience here. When we retire, it's a huge transition and we lose playmates that we had at work and we need to think about restocking our kind of social universe. So, that's a time where it's especially important to step back to reflect about, where am I going to find those connections that are energizing and meaningful. Do I need to think about new activities that might be important to me, that might bring meaning and also connection? It could be volunteer activities in your community. It could be recreational activities that are also good for you physically. But we tend to spend a lot of time at our physical fitness these days. And I think partly because it's hard to quantify it and that's why this social universe, these two dimensions, are helpful. We spend less time thinking and doing something about our social connections. So, important to take stock.

Casey Weade: Yeah. Well, as you say, I mean, relationships can be the most important predictor of happiness but it can also be the biggest culprit of unhappiness because we can have some things that we need to shift around in that chart. We have some negative relationships we need to mend or fix. And, yeah, I want to dive into this and some models that you have around dealing with these things by answering a great question from Caleb. Caleb said, "Addressing negative or broken relationships is a challenge that many face. I wonder if having more positive relationships would alleviate the downsides of the broken relationships one might have. Is it a must to mend negative relationships?” Well, what an interesting question. So, I hear it as I have some negative relationships but can I just set those aside and just pile on more positive relationships so I don’t have to deal with these? Does it work that way?

Marc Schulz: So, I love the question and it's just a thoughtful analysis. So, part of what I hear is this idea if we have enough joy and connection in our life, does it compensate for those challenges? And I think there's some truth to that. So, positive experiences help us mend from stressful or difficult experiences. It’s part of why relationships are so important. It's in those relationships we often experience that joy and connection. So, it's an antidote to some of the challenges, including relationship challenges that we face. I think this decision about what to do about depleting relationships is a very personal decision. So, it's hard to recommend from the outside, one strategy for doing this. So, if it's a challenging relationship, you have a sibling that's an important relationship for you but it's been frustrating over the years. You feel like you're the one always reaching out and your sister doesn't respond, or your sister's not as interested in trying to spend more time together or to work on making things more productive.

That's a really challenging situation to be in, and we each need to weigh what's the consequence of letting that relationship go. And we differ. So, if you had my coauthor, Bob, and I on, I'm kind of an eternally loyal person, I have this optimism about relationships that if you work on them, that we can get along with almost anyone. Sometimes you need to seek help to do that, a therapist for couples therapy, for example. But I also know that there are limits, and Bob is more on the side of you might need to cut that relationship at some point because it's been toxic for you over the years, and it's not helping you. It's making you feel more miserable and really important to figure out when that is. So, each person has their own kind of set point there when they weigh that but those are really important decisions to make.

Casey Weade: It feels like you could add a third dimension to the social universe, not just energizing and frequency, but the impact, the value of that relationship. What that relationship means to you could be another dimension that we add to this.

Marc Schulz: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. So, when we think about what to do about depleting relationships, that's the key question is how important is this relationship to you? And one of the things all of us do as we age, that's kind of a remarkable thing, that that's part of what we used to describe just as wisdom but we know more about what that is, at least on the emotional side. As we age, we get more clever about maximizing the positive, meaningful experiences in our life with other people in particular, and sort of trimming some of those more challenging opportunities and connections from our life. So, we can learn about that from older folks but we want to have that informed by how important those connections are. So, we can all be difficult at different moments in our life and their different phases. So, a grandchild that was wonderful when they were ten years old and especially cute when they were three, maybe at 15 is a little more challenging and doesn't want to spend as much time with grandma as he used to want to spend. So, we need to figure out how to navigate that, as opposed to automatically say, "Well, it's all over.”

So, part of that wisdom is recognizing people change and they're in different situations. A good friend now has a family and doesn't quite have as much time and freedom to spend time with me. You need to recognize that. And it's also recognizing that not every person in our life needs to be everything. So, I have a really good friend that I've been friends with since I'm literally four years old. I said I have a bit of loyalty in my life. He's not the person I would call in the middle of the night if I were scared or in trouble but I really enjoy spending time with this friend. When we're together, we have fun. We laugh when we recall times. So, we might have connections that serve certain functions at our life. Again, that may be a reason why having more than one connection can be a benefit to us. Not everyone needs to be everything to us. Some people can bring things to the table that are really important to us but we need other people for other things, and that's okay.

Casey Weade: You talk about the need to at times face the music. We have one of these say valuable, impactful relationships is not going well. Can we leverage this WISER model that you have in the if and how in addressing these things?

Marc Schulz: Yeah. So, the idea about facing the music first is really when we look at the folks that thrived in our study over these 85 years, generally, it's people that lean into challenges as opposed to denying that they exist or saying everything's fine when it's not. The best example of that is there's something wrong in your body. Woman notices some nodule in her breast and decides to go to the doctor and ask what that's about, as opposed to ignoring it and saying it's probably nothing. So, we need to lean into challenges because that's how we solve them. It's also how we engage others in our challenges. So, if we deny something is happening, a good friend says, “Are you okay, Marc?” and I say, "It's fine. It’s nothing to talk about,” I can’t take advantage of that connection and the power of connection with that person.

So, one of the tools that we talk about in our book, The Good Life, is a tool called the WISER Model. WISER is a complicated acronym for a series of steps that we can take when we're facing a challenge, particularly a relationship challenge. So, the W in Wiser is to watch. I'm having trouble with my sister. She and I are in conflict, and part of it is she's giving me advice on how to raise my kids that I don't feel particularly welcome about. I don't want her to intrude on my parenting. I think I'm a pretty good parent. So, I might watch more carefully those interactions that I'm having with my sister. And by watch, I mean kind of observe them, take it all in, especially ask the question, "What am I missing?” Maybe my sister is having a tough time in her own parenting. Maybe I'm especially sensitive about parenting because I think, "Well, I'm a psychologist. I should be good at parenting. And who is she? She's not a psychologist.” So, we need to introspect to think about our own role in this. We need to watch things more carefully, and especially pay attention to things that we're not necessarily paying attention to.

Well, the second initial there is I for interpret. So, how am I interpreting this? What's the kind of thing that's driving my emotion? So, it's not just what the event is, that's how I'm interpreting. So, when my sister gives me advice, I say she's trying to demean me. She's not respecting me as a parent. That may not be true. She's probably being kind. She's probably trying to help me. So, I have to think about my interpretation and particularly what I think is at stake here. When we feel strong emotions, we often feel strong stakes. So, we take people through this WISER model. It's a series of steps that slow down, particularly challenging emotional encounters that we're having, and allow us to reflect what can we do that's select strategies. We reflect at the end. That's the R at the end. We always want to reflect on, "What did I do this time that was different? Did it work better? Am I still finding challenges? What can I do in the future when I'm with my sister?”

Maybe we shouldn't talk, for example, at 10:00 at night when we're both tired. Maybe we should try and get together for a walk in the morning. That might be a better strategy. So, there are lots of things we can do with challenging relationships, and part of it is just slowing it down and also recognizing, Casey, this is a really important piece, recognizing that conflict is almost inevitable in all relationships. Relationships are complicated. They're messy. They're two different people with different priorities. In a relationship that you sustain over a long period of time, those two people are changing in different ways. So, my wife and I have been together for over 30 years, and she's not the same person I first started dating and that's wonderful, but it means that we have new challenges. The way we might have dealt with conflict or the priorities that we may have set when we were in our 20s are different now that we're both in our 60s. So, we evolve and relationships are tricky, and part of it is just recognizing that. It's inevitable. So, it's okay to have some conflict. We got to tolerate that.

Casey Weade: So, that WISER model, watch, interpret, select, engage, and reflect. That's awesome. Yeah. You've been doing this for a while now as we've stated. And you’re 61 years old today. If you were to rewind the clock 20 years ago so you're 40, 41 years old, what would your advice be to yourself, that 40-year-old self?

Marc Schulz: Yeah. I think I was certainly still figuring stuff out when I was 40. I'm still figuring it out now I'm in my 60s, but I think that I've learned how important relationships are. I've really taken these lessons to heart, and I'm more likely to talk to strangers on the train. I'm more likely to engage my students before and after class. Yesterday was a teaching day for me. I have my office hour right after class. And right before I went to my office, I said, "Now remember, I'm the person who does research that suggests that connections are important. I don't want to sit in my office hour all by myself. Come visit me. Even if you don't have questions about what we're working on or issues about the readings that we've been doing, just come chat with me.” And sure enough, I get to my office and there are four students lined up ready to talk to me. And it's a great hour just talking about their lives.

So, that was something I was more reluctant to do 20 years ago. An hour spent with people is an hour less time I could do on my research or my writing, or getting home to be with my family at that time was also really important. So, I tended to deprioritize those connections, particularly the ones outside of my family when I was younger, and I really learned to lean into them and to enjoy them in ways that I think I didn't as much when I was younger.

Casey Weade: So, I typically find that to be a real challenge for us with three little kids involved in sports and running a business. You know, I don't really feel that I have time for other friends outside of work and family. I've got work. I've got family. It's hard to really have deep, meaningful relationships when you've got a big, busy family. So, that's great insight and encouraging for me as well. You're on the Retire with Purpose podcast, and I think you have an interesting take on this. How would you define retire with purpose?

Marc Schulz: So, purpose is so important throughout our life. It's not just in retirement. Having a sense of meaning gets us out of bed literally in the morning. I love to teach. I really enjoy doing this research that we're talking about. So, I kind of get excited when I get into that classroom and I get to sit down with one of the participants in our study and really look at their history, the data that we have, the interviews that we have, all of the information that we have on them excites me. So, we need that sense of purpose as well when we retire. For people who are retiring from work, it means finding purpose in other places in their life. It could be in their family. It could be in volunteer activities. It could be in a renewed commitment to health. But that sense of purpose is so important to us. And my advice would be to find that in connection to others. So, it's the proverbial killing one bird with two stones there that we can think about doing things with purpose that also connect us to others.

So, can you imagine volunteering in a church organization in which you're going to be connected to others and it also gives you meaning? Is pickleball something that you're willing to try? Because not only does it make you move, but pickleball has lots of pauses, and we're waiting to play in between games or matches, and we talk to others. So, I'm a big racket sports guy, and one of the things I love about racket sports are the connections that I make when I play. Those are really important to me. So, retirement with purpose is about that sense of meaning, doing something that gives meaning to you and maybe benefits others. That's one way that we can enrich our meaning, but it also means connecting with others. That's another way that we experience purpose and meaning.

Casey Weade: That's great. I know you'd have something to say about relationships as it pertains to purpose, so that's great. And you know, if you're listening to this and you say, “I want to be happier,” well, I've got a great resource for you that's super easy. We partnered up with Marc in order to give free copies of his book away, as I said in the open. And if you want to take a deeper dive into this, we want to get this in your hand. We want as many people to be happy as possible. And one way to do this is by giving this book away. So, if you want a copy of the book, just subscribe to the podcast, rate the podcast, and review us. So, write a review on your Apple app right there on your iPhone or however you might be listening to this today, and then shoot us a text with the keyword ‘BOOK’ to 866-482-9559, and then we will send you a link so that you can get your free book, assuming that you haven't done this in the past.

So, hey Marc, thank you so much. It's been a true pleasure. I had such a great opportunity to be able to take a deeper dive into this study with the man himself.

Marc Schulz: Thank you, Casey. Really enjoyed talking with you. It was a pleasure.

Casey Weade: Thanks, Marc.