For years, psychology has looked into the imperfections of the human race. Depression, anxiety and mental illness studies and management protocols have covered pages of journals. When working to discover causes and treatments of these mental illnesses, researchers persevered to find ways to ease suffering for all those who were facing these obstacles. Even in the midst of the advances and success, one truth remained: Not being depressed isn’t the same as being happy.
A Truth That Lasts for Generations: Relationships Are Important
Scholars at Harvard began collecting data on 724 men. Their research monitored two groups of men for 75 years: Harvard psychiatrist George Vaillant started the study of 268 Harvard sophomores, while law school professor Sheldon Glueck studied 456 12 to 16-year-old boys who were raised in inner city Boston.
Now on its fourth director Robert Waldinger, approximately 60 of the initial 724 men are alive and continuing to participate in this study, with the majority of them in their 90s. The research didn’t stop when participants died, instead it continued, and researchers are now studying over 2,000 children of these men. What they have uncovered so far is as simple as it is profound: What keeps us happier and healthier are good relationships.
Generations were taught and today’s society continues to reinforce it: to have a happy life we should work harder and achieve more. A study of millennials found that more than 80 percent of them had a major life goal of becoming rich. An additional 50 percent of millennials had a goal of becoming famous. And even after these results, the Harvard longitudinal study states something extremely different. One of life’s greatest lessons regarding happiness has little to nothing to do with these adages. No matter your background, it turns out that social connections work miracles for our well-being.
Quality Over Quantity
People that are more socially intertwined with family, friends, and their community are proven to be happier as well as physically healthier and to live longer. On the other hand, as lead researcher Robert Waldinger has said, loneliness kills. People who are less socially linked don’t function as well mentally, don’t sleep as well, and are at increased risk for illness and death.
An additional finding was that the quantity of relationships is not as important as the quality of relationships. For example, people in marriages with a lot of issues and low amounts of affection were not surprisingly found to be less happy than unmarried people. There is other longitudinal research that confirms this as well. The number of relationships people had in their 20s was important, but in their 30s the quality of relationships had an even bigger impact.
Positive relationships are good for not only our bodies, but our minds. Additional research has shown that personality has a direct impact on longevity of life and well-being. The Harvard study explicitly explained that if you really feel you can count on someone when you need them most, your memories stay sharper longer. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t have to be nonstop delight, but the difference lies in whether you know you can trust your partner to be there.
Show, Spread, and Be Love
How does this pan out in real-world terms? Love is a verb. Love is putting compassionate feelings for others in action — starting with being present and engaged with those you care about and devoting time to them. The director of the study has said that simple things like doing something new together, having a date night, or taking a walk together can have influential effects for your health, longevity, and quality of life.
Mending unhealed relationships in your life is significant. Don’t hold a grudge. Find different ways to shake off anger and/or resentment regarding someone – even if that means taking action by moving toward the conflict. Sometimes it means having difficult and sometimes unwanted discussions. As a Buddhist saying goes: Holding on to anger is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else — you are the one who gets burned.
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