3 Lessons on Happiness from 75-Year-Old Harvard Research
By Jeremy Lim (B.Psych.) & Dr. Johnben Loy (Ph.D., LMFT)
The word is out! Based on possibly the longest research study on adult development ever conducted, we now know what contributes to human happiness. It is not money. It is not fame. So what is it?
According to Robert Waldinger, the 4th director for the Harvard Study of Adult Development, the biggest message from the 75-year-old study wasn’t about fame or wealth, it was simply this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. He also elaborated on three lessons.
Lesson 1: Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills.
People who were better socially connected were happier, physically healthier, and tended to live longer than those who weren’t. By contrast, people who were more isolated than they wanted to be were less happy, had an earlier health and brain functioning decline in midlife, and tend to live shorter.
Lesson 2: Relationship conflict is bad for health.
Living in the midst of conflict is bad for our health and living in the middle of good, warm relationships are protective. The researchers found that the main predictor of health in the participants in their 80s was how satisfied they were with their relationships at 50. The happily partnered men in their 80s reported that on days with most physical pain, their mood stayed happy while their unhappily partnered counterparts experienced emotional pain in addition to the physical pain.
Lesson 3: Good relationships protect both the body and the brain.
The research participants who felt they could really count on their partners in times of need had memories that stayed sharper longer. These protective relationships also didn’t have to be smooth all the time, the couple just had to feel like they could really count on the other person when the going gets tough.
However, cultivating good relationships is hard work and a lifelong process. The participants who were happiest in retirement were those who had made the effort to tend to relationships with friends, families, and community.
This is good news! Why? Because we know that it is possible to learn how to cultivate good relationships — even for those who have incredible difficulty doing so. As clinicians at Rekindle, we specialise in helping people learn how to grow to like themselves and also to love their relationships. If you need help in this area, do not hesitate to contact us today. Invest in your relationship, invest in your health!
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