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What do we need to be happy? A close-to-80-year Harvard study is finding at the center of joy stands one thing: Our relationships. The article, Good genes are nice, but joy is better, by the The Harvard Gazette reports how findings from the Grant and Glueck study indicate our close relationships in life are better predictors of our health and happiness than genes or IQ.
“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation,” said Waldinger.
The study began in 1938, consisting of 268 Harvard sophomores (all men at that time) to learn how our experiences in life affect our physical health and how we age. It eventually grew to include 456 individuals from inner-city Boston and has now expanded to include wives and children, the second-generation of early participants. Today, it consists of more than 1,300 individuals. The data comes from in-person interviews, questionnaires, medical records, and even brain scans.
Researchers are now seeing from all that data, that our emotional and physical well-being stems in large part from our relationships. And it’s not how many close friends we have that matters, rather it’s the quality of those friendships that contribute to our joy and health.
There’s even evidence to show that how satisfied we are with our relationships is a better predictor of physical health than more traditional wellness methods, such as our cholesterol levels.
What might this mean for your retirement? Well, it could mean spending a little time focusing on your relationships. We’ve listed below a few areas to spend your time to help you maximize your happiness and health:
1) Relationships, relationships, relationships. Stay in touch with your friends and family. Call them regularly to talk, even if it’s only for a few minutes. Grab a cup of coffee with a friend. Have standing dates on the calendar. Keep those connections in your life. It’s also never too late to build new relationships. And remember, quality over quantity.
2) Tend to your marriage. Included under the relationship umbrella is marriage. One of the studies found elderly couples who reported feeling satisfied with their marriage (truly feeling they could count on their partner) had a type of mental protection against physical pain. Meaning their emotional state was not as affected by physical pain when they felt they were happily married. So while you’re putting some extra attention on your friendships, consider some fine-tuning of your marriage as well.
3) Have a daily practice or meditation. Having a meditation practice or some type of daily practice is a tool for helping to maintain the clarity on what is important in life and with your time. It doesn’t have to mean sitting with your eyes closed. It can be any daily practice that brings joy and calm to your day. You can practice a walking meditation (simply put: this just means walking), cooking meditation (cooking a meal for yourself), or even sitting still for a few minutes each day. If you can incorporate these things into your routine, you’re more likely to want to make an effort at maintaining your relationships in life.
The Harvard Gazette, Goods genes are nice, but joy is better, https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/
Waldinger, Robert J and Marc S Schulz. “What’s love got to do with it? Social functioning, perceived health, and daily happiness in married octogenarians”Psychology and aging vol. 25,2 (2010): 422-31. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2896234/