What makes a good life? Many people surveyed have said money or fame. Some have said success at work. But Robert Waldinger gave a Ted Talk to discuss a Harvard research project that has actually lasted more than 75 years studying this exact topic.
Since 1938, researchers have studied two groups of men, a total of 724 people. The first group were all sophomores at Harvard, many of whom fought in WW2 a few years later. The second group were boys from one of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods and many didn’t even have running water. As of four years ago, 60 of the original 724 were still alive! Researchers have kept tabs with these people every other year since 1938 and looked at home lives, work, physical exams, and brain scans among other things. There were doctors, lawyers, factory workers and even one President of the United States involved in this study. Some folks developed alcoholism and schizophrenia. While some climbed from the bottom of the social ladder to the top, others went the exact opposite direction. So, what have they learned?
Happiness is not about money, fame or working harder and harder. Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
The researchers learned three major lessons:
- Social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected are happier, physically healthier and live longer. Loneliness is toxic and at any given time, 1 in 5 Americans consider themselves lonely.
- It is not the number of friends or if you’re in a committed relationship but the quality of your relationships that matters. Longevity is predicted by how satisfied people are in their relationships…not their cholesterol level. The people most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Physical pain is actually magnified for those in unsatisfying relationships.
- Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies…they protect our minds. Memories stay sharper, longer, for those who really feel they can count on the people in their relationships. Bickering in a marriage is not a negative indicator, by the way. It’s if the couple felt they could count on their spouse.
Why do many people struggle with relationships? Humans want a quick fix. Relationships are messy, take hard work and are often lifelong. The people happiest in retirement are those who actively worked to replace their workmates with new playmates. And people who fared the best learned to lean into their relationships.
So how do you improve your relationships? It could be as simple as replacing some screen time with social time. Or livening up a relationship by doing something new together. Maybe reaching out to that family member that you haven’t spoken to in years. It can take a lot of hard work, but something tells me you’ll enjoy it, and who knows, you might even make yourself healthier and live longer in the process.