Happiness, Relationships, and Their Impact on Health- Findings From Harvard University
A boat, a big house, or a make-the-neighbors-jealous sports car. Yep, you might think, all those things that would make me happy and improve my life, 100 percent.
How about a tropical vacation, or even a night out minus the kids? Admit it — that makes you smile just a little, right?
Everyone has a different version of their happy place. As a pediatric dentist, my job is to give children the ability to have a confident healthy smile- from personal experience, that is the spark that leads to happiness and success socially. And here are some interesting findings from the folks at Harvard University.
Rather than finding joy in material things, the levels of happiness in people’s relationships have a powerful impact on a person’s health.
So sure, while diet, exercise and all that good stuff you’re supposed to do for your physical self is important, so are the relationships in your life.
Or, as the study’s author, Robert Waldinger, explained: “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.”
The study – whose findings are explained on the Harvard Gazette’s website — shows that close relationships help protect folks from life’s hardships, and help ward off mental and physical decline.
Here’s another surprise, it found people’s relationships are better predictors of long, happy lives, more so than “social class, IQ, or even genes.”
In case you’re wondering, the study has been a long time coming. Back in 1938, during the Great Depression, scientists began following the health of 268 Harvard sophomores. Today, it’s still going on. Known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development, it holds the title of the world’s longest study of adult life.
Along the way, it’s revealed all sorts of data about the participants’ physical and mental health.
Today, 19 of the young men in the original study are still living. Over the years, scientists began including the men’s children — which number 1,300. And then, in the 1970s, over 450 inner-city Boston residents were added.
As the decades passed, the participants’ health trajectories, as well as the highs and lows of their lives, jobs and marriages, started producing results.
Which brings us back to the issue of how healthy, happy relationships boost health. Researchers combed through data from the study — everything from medical records to hundreds of in-person interviews and questionnaires – and found a strong correlation between “men’s flourishing lives and their relationships with family, friends, and community.”
Need proof? Many studies even concluded that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better indicator of physical health than their cholesterol levels.
“When we gathered together everything we knew about them about at age 50, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old,” Waldinger explained during a popular TED Talk. “It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
So while that old saying about an apple a day keeping the doctor away may certainly be true, it doesn’t seem to be the only indictor of good health.