What keeps us healthy and happy as we go through life? If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy? Unfortunately, many people think getting rich and/or famous is the answer. However, one of the key findings of an 84-year (and counting) study of human development at Harvard University called the Grant Study says differently. It is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
Dr. Robert Waldinger is a Harvard psychiatrist who has been running the Grant Study or Harvard Study of Adult Development for almost 20 years (he’s the fourth person in charge in its history). It may be the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. For 84 years, they have tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.
About a dozen of the 268 men originally in the Harvard study are still alive. Most served in World War II, all were white. Some achieved great success; others failed to live up to their potential. Now, they’ve moved on to a second generation study. While there were many aspects of the men’s lives that were striking, Waldinger says there are three key findings about relationships that predicted how happy and healthy the men were as they grew older.
Dr. Robert Waldinger said the following in his 2015 TED talk:
1. Loneliness kills. “People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they 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. And the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they’re lonely.”
2. Quality of relationships matters more than quantity. “It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, 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.”
3. Good relationships protect the brain. “People who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline.”
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