Yet the Harvard Study of Adult Relationship, one of the longest and most complete studies of adult life ever conducted, found that good relationships, not wealth or fame, keep us happier and healthier.
The study followed two cohorts of white men for 75 years, starting in 1938:
- 268 Harvard sophomores
- 456 12-to-16-year-old boys who grew up in inner-city Boston.
The researchers came away with one key finding: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. No surprise, people who said they were lonely reported feeling less happy, and exhibited poorer physical and mental health.
- Close relationships. The men in both study groups who reported feeling closer to their families, friends, or communities tended to be happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. They also lived longer.
- Quality (not quantity) of relationships. It's not just being in a relationship that matters. Married couples who fought constantly and had low affection for one another were less happy than the people who weren't married at all. Men who were the most satisfied with their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. The most happily partnered octogenarian men said that on days when they had more physical pain, their good moods remained unchanged. But men in unhappy relationships found that physical pain was magnified by more emotional pain.
- Mental health. Octogenarians who could count on their partners in times of need had memories that remained sharper longer. In that same age group, men who weren't in emotionally dependable relationships experienced earlier memory declines.
Robert Waldinger is the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
Click here for the recent Ted talk he gave in the study.
A personal note: Coincidentally late last year I began a series of posts on the friendships that have played such an important part in my life. In the first post in the series, I talked about how my history with friendships has been the opposite of that of most people. I didn't have a lot of friends in high school and my early years at Cornell were probably the loneliest in my life. Today, as I approach age 87, I have more quality friendships than ever.
I'll posts some concluding thoughts on the series one of these days. To locate other posts in the series, put "friends" in the search box at the start of this post.