If you could pinpoint one thing that makes you happy, what would it be? You might consider: Wealth, fame, a big promotion …
All of these things sound nice, but findings from the longest study on happiness attribute something else. Over the course of 75 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development followed 724 men over the course of their lives. From their teenage years to their old age, they were interviewed, studied, and documented. There was one thing that stood well above the rest and shown to be the differentiator of those who lived long, happy lives, and those who did not.
Robert Waldinger, Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development explained the study in a Ted Talk. He summarized the study in seven words: “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period”
This sounds like an oversimplification, but what they found was such overwhelming data—tens of thousands of pages of research that points to the fact that relationships are good for your health and help you live longer. Waldinger continued, “Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills.” Relationships in this sense don’t just mean romantic relationships—it speaks to the importance of family, community, and close friends to keep you happy and healthy. Those who reported feelings of loneliness are less likely to be happy, and their physical and mental health is more likely to decline sooner—and they do not live as long as those who enjoy strong, healthy relationships.
Bottom line: It’s not the number of friends you have or whether or not you’re in a committed relationship…it’s the quality of relationships.
So take a look at your own relationship health, and ask yourself the following questions:
- Who do I feel supported by? Who can I count on?
- What activities are not serving my need for social connection?
- How can I spend more time with those I love?
- Is there anyone in my circle of family or friends who I need to forgive?
- How satisfied am I in my relationships?
- What more can I offer to my relationships?
It’s true that relationships can be hard work. But it turns out, the work pays off to protect our bodies and our brains.
Watch the 12-minute TED Talk to hear the rest of the findings from Waldinger and his research team.