by Kevie Simon on Wednesday, February 24th, 2016
What truly makes life good? I think it’s safe to assume that we all have differing opinions on this topic. When polling Millennials on this question, the vast majority said their life goals leading to happiness would be making money and/or becoming famous. For others, overworking has become the precedence by which we rate our life’s worth. For many, we try to fix our diets and physical environments to hopefully ensure a long life. Risk taking and seizing the day is the solution of joy for others. Every day, we seek after anything that promises happiness and health, but many of us still can’t find the answer to this plaguing question.
The Harvard research department decided to take this question of lifetime happiness a bit further. Unknown to the public, the Harvard department of adult development has been conducting a 75-year study on what brings true happiness throughout the lifespan. The study began with 724 men in the middle of WWII. They began with two groups: one group of men from the sophomore class at Harvard and the other, a group of boys from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston. Every two years from the beginning of the study, researchers would interview the participants and make medical assessments. Sixty of these original men are alive today, and the study continues through their over 4,000 children. In a brilliant Ted Talk, the director of the study, Robert Waldinger, takes his audience through three key lessons gleaned from this study.
Harvard researchers extrapolated this main point: good, secure relationships keep us happier and healthier over the lifetime. Period. The participants who had deep, connected relationships were emotionally happier, physically healthier, and lived longer lives. On the flip side, the researchers learned loneliness can literally kill us. The men in the study who claimed to be lonely had higher levels of declining health in mid-life, earlier declines in brain function, and shorter lifespans. And what they found next is even more astounding!
Analyzing the data further, Harvard discovered it’s not just the number of close relationships that matter, it’s the quality of the close relationships. No matter if participants were rich or poor, the quality of their closest relationships was the only key contributor to overall happiness and health. When testing their medical statistics in mid-life, it wasn’t medical information that predicted how each man would grow old, but the quality of their relationships in mid-life. This did not mean that their relationships were always smooth, but each man felt connected in the relationship even when times were tough. I have always believed that close relationships were an integral part of our lives, but this research pushes my understanding of just how necessary healthy relationships are for our lives.
What does this mean for all of us? What impact does this have in the conversation on addiction? (I will unpack this idea a bit more in a future blog) We all know that real relationships are messy. But from the presented research, we are able to conclude that close, safe relationships are vital to our overall health and happiness. We all need deep connections. When this connection is broken, our bodies and minds begin to falter. Addiction can play a part as a cheap substitute for true connection. For today, I am going to give you, and myself, a little thought experiment after reading this. Take a look at the closest relationships in your life. Where can you take time and effort to continue deepening these relationships? If you have trouble finding any in your life, what steps can you take to building lasting relationships? I know that I am going to take a little more time this week to do something caring and thoughtful for those close to me.
To watch the video, click on this link: http://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness