“Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength, while loving someone deeply gives you courage.” ~ Lao Tzu
What makes your life happy and meaningful? You might think its a very subjective question, the answer to it may differ from person to person due to our individual perspectives and priorities in life.
A look into this longest running study of adult life ever
conducted will make you reexamine the way you lead your life. Conducted by Harvard, this study tracked the life of 724 men for 75 continuous years to understand what makes people happy and healthy.
The study began in 1938 tracking the lives of two groups of men – the first group comprised 268 sophomores at Harvard, who had finished college during World War II, and then most went off to serve in the war. While the second group of boys were from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, who came from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s.
After studying lives of so many men and tonnes and tonnes of information about them, the message that came across was simple – Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
“We’ve learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that 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. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.”
It doesn’t mean that the more friends you have the happier you would be, but the quality of your close relationships is what matters.
According to the study the three key points to a happier and healthier life are –
1) Loneliness is toxic
“People are lonely because they build walls instead of bridges.” ~ Joseph F. Newton Men
Human beings are social creatures after all. We need the human touch, the connection, some one to talk to or rely on when the going gets tough. From my personal experience, I have seen my mother’s condition after my father’s demise; staying alone is like a traumatic experience for her, she abhors it and at the same time it has had an impact on her overall health. Not to deny that she is also an introvert.
Moving ahead with times, in this age of technological advancements, we might be well connected and have 1k-2k friends on social media, but it has also led to a lack of real connections. How many are our real friends who we can count on? Technology has connected us in different ways, but has created a void within many people. Young adults spending too much time on social media face perceived social isolation, replacing real world relationships.
2) Quality of relationships is what matters
“Love in such a way that the person you love feels free.” ~ Thich Nhat Hanh
Couples might be married for 30 years or more but are they happy with each other? Relationships thrive in warm, protective environment, and not in conflicting ones. High conflict marriages without much affection are toxic for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced.
Waldinger explained, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.”
3) Good relationships are good for your brain
“Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.” ~ Dalai Lama
Relationships and emotions go hand in hand. Healthy relationships lead to healthy emotions, while an abusive one results in negativity and toxicity. We know the effect of negative emotions on our health. This study recapitulates the fact that strong relationships protects our bodies and even our brains.
People in their eighties experience early memory loss when they do not feel they have someone in their life they can count on in times of need. When they do have such a person, their memories stay sharper longer.
If the secret to a happy life is having healthy relationships then why is it so difficult for us to follow that in our lives? The main reason can be attributed to the fact that we are complex beings and we love to complicate our lives. Relationships, whether with family or friends, aren’t easy; it requires constant work, effort and will to keep it going.
Mark Twain said, “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.”
Mend broken relationships, replace screen time with people time, get creative to liven it up, so when you grow old you don’t regret that you didn’t give it your best shot!