The 75-year old Harvard study whose goal was to determine the most important factor in human happiness is a revolutionary research in psychology.
It followed the lives of 2 groups of men for more than 75 years, and it now follows their children in order to see how childhood experience affects well-being and health later on.
So, what keeps us vital and healthy as we go through life? According to psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, the ones who believe it`s money and fame are mistaken. As the lead author of this study, Waldinger has access to all data on true satisfaction and happiness.
As he explains, “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
Still, the most important predictor of happiness and satisfaction, in general, is LOVE. In other words, the study found that having someone you can count on helps relax the nervous system, which in turn keeps the brain healthy and reduces emotional pain.
In addition, the data showed that those who feel alone are at higher risk of seeing their health deteriorate earlier and die at a younger age.
“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” notes Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
What he tries to explain is that it doesn’t matter whether you are in the perfect relationship or have many friends; it is the quality of the relationships that really counts. Simply put, it is the depth and loyalty in them that matters, the extent to which you can relax and be appreciated for who you truly are.
For instance, one study found that women in satisfying marriages and marital-type relationships were less likely to experience cardiovascular disease compared to women in less satisfying marriages. Many other studies done on the same topic have associated negative interactions with friends or family members with poorer health. One study in particular has found that couples in hostile marital environment show signs of reduced immunity.
The conclusion from this study is that social connections are of utmost importance, giving us pleasure and affecting long-term health in many ways. In fact, multiple studies have shown that people with highly satisfying relationship with friends, family members, and the community in general, are much happier, experience fewer problems, and live longer.
On the other hand, lack of social interactions is linked to depression, cognitive decline, and increased mortality. For instance, one study which assessed data from over 309,000 people showed that lack of quality relationships increased the risk of premature death by 50 percent.
Therefore, having a network of healthy relationships can play an important role in reducing stress, which in turn affects coronary arteries, immune system, insulin regulation, and more. After all, the fact that social interactions boost happiness and promote longer and happier live doesn’t come as surprise.