What Can We Learn From a Legendary 75-Year Harvard Study of Happiness?
By James Mills, Associate Partner & Mentorship Coach, Lighthouse International
"There isn't time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that."
- Mark Twain
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is a groundbreaking study into what is at the heart of a happy and healthy life. It's now been going for more than 75 years; starting with 724 young men from some of the most affluent and some of the most deprived communities of Boston in 1938. It was based on the premise of asking questions like;
If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?
What if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time to see what really keeps people happy and healthy?
The study participants went on to a whole range of professions and life situations - including legendary US President; John F Kennedy. In a TED Talk last year, the current Director, Robert Waldinger, shared fascinating insights from this study, that we can all learn from...
Good Relationships Keep Us Happier And Healthier
This was the key lesson that has come out of decades of research that has generated tens of thousands of pages of information, from sources including medical records and in-person interviews. Robert Waldinger explained the 3 big lessons they have learnt about relationships in the process...
1. Being Connected Is Good For Our Happiness & Health
"Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they're physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic."
2. Having Quality Close Relationships Is Crucial
"It's not just the number of friends you have, and it's not whether or not you're in a committed relationship, but it's the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health."
3. Good Relationships Protect Our Mental Health
"Good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the 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. And those good relationships, they don't have to be smooth all the time."
So the evidence very much supports the need for us to nurture our relationships; Robert Waldinger describes this as being easier said than done! He explains why many forget to follow this sound advice in order to living a happy and healthy life;
"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."