According to one survey, a whopping 80% of millennials say that one of their greatest desires is to have a lot of money. And 50% want to be famous. Are they on to something or is this desire misguided? According to a Harvard University study on human health and happiness, they are way off base.
In 1928, researchers started tracking the lives of a group of 724 men from all walks of life. They are still following the lives of the 60 surviving members today. Their wives and children (2,000 of them!) are now part of the study as well. With the wealth of information that they gathered, they came to some very important conclusions.
Three things stand out. First, social connections increase our happiness, physical health, and lifespan. Unfortunately, 1 in 5 Americans says that they are lonely.
Second, it’s not about the number of social connections one has, it’s about the quality of those relationships. They found that the men who were most satisfied in their relationships at 50 years old were the healthiest at 80 years old. In fact, relationship quality was a better indicator of future health than the usual things, like cholesterol. Not only that, at 80 years, people’s aches and pains affected their moods less if they were in a happy relationship.
Third, having good relationships affected their brains too. The men who felt they could count on their partners when times got hard, had sharper memories as they grew older.
Robert Waldinger, the fourth director of this 80-year-old study, is quick to point out that a good, satisfying relationship does not mean that the couple doesn’t fight. Often, there was plenty of bickering within the healthy couples. But they knew they would be there for each other. And it’s not just romantic relationships that matter. Family, friends, and community are important too.
Recent studies provide some insight into how to maintain healthy relationships. Relationship satisfaction tends to be higher when you express gratitude for your partner. Open communication, even about the hard things, is also connected to healthy relationships. And, it’s important to make time for play! Couples who experience exciting and enjoyable activities together, tend to stay together.
Waldinger suggests livening up stale relationships by doing new things together. He also suggests simple things like replacing screen-time with people-time, taking walks together, having date-nights, and reaching out to resolve that long-standing family feud.
Like the millennials who were surveyed, many of the men of the Harvard study initially sought achievement and wealth as young men. As it turns out, that’s not what life is all about. It’s about the relationships that we cultivate. It’s about connection. And it’s about being there for each other.
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