75-year study reveals the secret sauce for a happy, healthy life

Happiness

By pH health care professionals

Take a moment and think about what your vision for a happy and fulfilled life looks like.

What do you see? Wealth? Fame? Awards?

Where would you need to invest your time and energy in order to bring that vision to life?

A recent survey of millennials asked what their most important life goals were. Over 80 percent said a major life goal was to get rich and 50 percent said another major life goal was to become famous.

Is this surprising? We are constantly told to go after career success, to lean in, to achieve more. We put a majority of our time and effort into building a career, wealth, a reputation – will it make you happy?

They say hindsight is 20/20. Sometimes it is, sometimes it’s not. So a team of Harvard researchers set out to watch entire lives as they unfold through time, studying people as teenagers in the 1930s into old age, to see what keeps people happy and healthy.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development was conducted for 75 years, tracking 724 men year after year.

The study participants included two groups of teenagers who were interviewed and given medical exams. Some were Harvard sophomores, and some came from disadvantaged families in poor neighborhoods without hot or cold running water. Some grew up to become wildly successful, climbing the social ladder, while others slid backwards. They grew up to become factory workers, lawyers, brick-layers, doctors, even a president.

The researchers followed them throughout their lives, interviewing the participants and their spouses, videotaping them talking with their wives about their deepest concerns, examining medical records, scanning their brains and drawing their blood – all to find out what makes a happy and healthy life.

So what did they learn?

The message is simple. "Good relationships keep us happier and healthier," said psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, director of the 75-year-old Harvard study, in a TED Talk.

Throughout the participants’ lives, it wasn’t “success” that equated with happiness or long-term health. Yes, it was quality relationships.

Here are some of the lessons the researchers learned about relationships:

  • Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills,” Waldinger explained. People who are more socially connected to family, friends and community are happier and physically healthier, and they live longer. 1 in 5 Americans report feeling lonely, Waldinger said.
  • Quality matters. "It's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.” He went on to explain how conflict is “really bad for our health” and how warm relationships are actually protective of our health.
  • Investing in relationships now will pay off later in life. It wasn’t their cholesterol levels that predicted their long-term health. “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50, were the healthiest at age 80." Close relationships seemed to be a buffer from some of the “slings and arrows” of aging.
  • Love is good for the brain. Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they also protect our brains. Study participants who were in relationships where they really felt like they could count on the other person had memories that stayed sharper longer.

In his TED Talk, Waldinger provided a few tips for “leaning into relationships”:

  • Replace screen time with people time.
  • Liven up a stale relationship by doing something new together.
  • Reach out to that family member you haven’t spoken to in years. Grudges take a toll.

After all, this is an investment that will affect your health and happiness now and in the future, regardless of how much money you make or where you’re at in your career. As Waldinger said, “A good life is built with good relationships.”

So what do you think? Has this study changed your vision of a happy life?

 Enjoy Your Healthy Life!

The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses and certified fitness instructors. To learn more about the pH Health Care Team, click here.

Comments (1)

Guest

One powerful angle for optimizing health....Thanks for sharing

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