From Harvard Psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, edited by Andrew John Harrison.
Ask most young people what they want from life and they will tell you money and fame. Landmark 75-year study of what actually matters reveals lessons that aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get is this:
Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
Harvard’s Grant & Glueck study tracked the physical and emotional well-being of 268 male graduates from Harvard, as well as 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014. Multiple generations of researchers analyzed brain scans, blood samples, self-reported surveys and interactions of these men to compile their findings.
The conclusions are simple. Close relationships can make or break a person’s well-being, according to Robert Waldinger, Harvard professor of psychology and director of the center behind the study.
The study reveals the following lessons:
- Social connections are really good for us. Loneliness kills. People who are more socially connected to family, friends, and community are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less well connected. The experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.
- It’s the quality of your close relationships that matter. You can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship.
- Living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.
- Good relationships protect our bodies and brains. Being in a securely attached relationship in your 80s is protective. The people who are in relationships where they feel they can count on the other person in times of need, memories stay sharper longer vs those who cannot, experience earlier memory decline.
The bottom line is that good, close relationships are good for our health and wellbeing.
Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that’ll make our lives good and keep them that way. Relationships are messy and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. It never ends.
But hey, it is worth it!