The Secret to Happiness? Drinking Less Alcohol.

Men who moderate their alcohol intake generally lead happier, more fulfilling lives, a 75-year long Harvard study shows. In 1938, the Grant Study set out following 268 Harvard undergraduate men in order to determine what factors contribute most strongly to human flourishing. Dr. George Vaillant, who directed the extensive and detailed project for over 30 years, discovered there was a direct correlation between a man’s drinking habits and his overall level of health and well-being.

Alcohol: The Greatest Contributor to Failed Marriages

During his research, Vaillant realized some of the Harvard men expressed a higher level of happiness. These same men excelled at loving others and being loved; they also didn’t abuse alcohol. “Happiness is love,” Vaillant says, and aside from schizophrenia, the best way to push love away is alcoholism. Vaillant also found that the majority of the men from the Harvard sample who had happy and satisfying marriages drank moderately, while 57 percent of the men who divorced drank alcoholically. Excessive drinking was determined to be the single greatest culprit in the failed marriages, and in nearly every instance preceded the men’s marital problems. Throughout the many years of the Grant Study, Vaillant followed up with the participants on over 60 different occasions and learned that not abusing alcohol, along with not smoking, were “by far the most important things you could do [to live longer].”

Debunking Myths About Alcoholism

The Grant Study also illuminated the cause and effect relationship between unhappy childhoods and adolescent alcohol abuse. While it is commonly believed adult alcoholics are born from a troubled upbringing, Vaillant says that’s not the case. “What a study like this shows is that, first, lots of alcoholics invent an unhappy childhood to justify their drinking,” Vaillant says. “Second: if any alcoholic’s childhood is miserable, it’s because a blood relative has alcoholism. If the unhappy childhood is the result of an alcoholic stepparent, the person doesn’t drink to relive the misery. So it’s the genetic component of alcoholism that matters.” But just because one is an alcoholic doesn’t mean they have to stay an alcoholic. Of those Harvard men who suffered from alcohol abuse during the course of the study, nearly 50 percent found reprieve from their disease through AA, a feat, Vaillant says, that is nothing short of “remarkable.” Another theory that was disproved by the Grant Study was that depression leads to alcoholism. In fact, Vaillant says, it’s the other way around. “Depression does not lead to alcoholism, whereas alcoholism leads to depression,” Vaillant says. “If you take 100 cases, you can find two or three exceptions, but that’s all. People didn’t really know that before the Grant study.”

The Destructive Power of Alcoholism

The Grant Study has been groundbreaking for both its longevity and findings, the most important of which, Vaillant says, is that “alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.” The research-based discoveries yielded by the Grant Study show that drinking moderately, or not at all, leads to a long and happy life. In addition, drinking responsibly not only improves men’s ability to love, but also the quality of their marriages.

Scroll to Top