Money? Fame? Successful Career? What constitutes the “good life?” Eighty percent of millennial surveyed have a life goal to be rich and fifty percent dream of being famous. In 1940 Harvard University began what is probably the longest study of adult development. Seventy-seven years later, sixty of the men are still alive, in their 90s. One group of men began as sophomores at Harvard and then went on to fight in World War II. The other group were boys from the most disadvantaged neighborhood in Boston, many living in tenement housing without hot and cold running water.
The study has followed these men, over 2,000 of their children and is now following their wives as well. There is contact every two years which includes questionnaires, home visits, personal interviews, videos of them in conversation with their wives, studying their medical records and conducting brain scans.
These men have had a wide variety of occupations, including one President of the United States. Some have climbed the social ladder while others have fallen. What did they find? Wealth, fame and working harder do not bring the “good life.”
Good relationships are what keep us happier and healthier… PERIOD. They have drawn three conclusions:
- Social connections with family, friends and community are good for us. Loneliness kills. People who are well connected are happier, physically healthier and live longer. Those who more isolated are less happy, their physical health declines earlier as does their brain function.
- Quality counts! It is not just having connections, it is having good quality connections. Conflict is very bad for our health. When the men in the study were in their 80s, the researchers reviewed their lives in their 50s. Cholesterol levels were not the indicator of a good life as an octogenarian. It was their satisfaction with their relationships in their 50s which resulted in the best health in their 80s! Those who were in unhappy relationships and experienced physical pain had accompanying emotional pain. Those in good relationships also had physical pain, but it did not affect their happiness.
- Good, solid relationships also protect our brains! When the individuals in their 80s were with others that they felt they could count on, their memory stayed sharper longer. Those who felt they could not count on others… they had earlier memory decline. Some of those healthy relationship people may have bickered every day with their spouse – but they knew they could count on them.
What about wealth – once our basic needs are met… wealth does not change our health or our happiness. Fame? With the intrusion of media and decreased privacy, most famous people experience a decrease in health and happiness. Work harder? Recall the saying that no man on his death bed ever expressed regret at not having spent more time at the office.
There is more – you can watch a review of the study here. I was just thinking that most people I know are investing in their future selves by exercising, eating right or trying strange diets, always seeking new ways to make money, etc. There is much more screen time than people time. In the meantime, relationships go stale and family feuds continue.
Obviously exercising and eating right are very important – but what if we spent just a fraction of our time and effort on our most important relationships? What would that look like? If this is the BEST thing we can do for our future, what must we change? I am going to stop writing and start thinking about it —- Family, Friends and Community. This is what matters and I think I want to think of just one thing I can do to improve just one relationship… What would our world be if everyone did the same?