Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives. This fact has been revealed in study after study, including one of the longest ever studies of human well-being.
“Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too,” said Robert Waldinger, the director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development which, having started almost 80 years ago, is one of the world’s longest studies of adult life.
The study began in 1938 with 268 male Harvard University students and now includes about 1300 of their offspring as well as control groups from other social spheres.
The researchers have found that positive relationships protect people from the vicissitudes of life, they also help to delay mental and physical decline, and are a better predictor of long and happy lives than social class, education, IQ, or even genes.
The role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved to be less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, now recognised as a good predictor of healthy ageing.
Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier and the loners often died earlier. “Loneliness kills,” Waldinger said.
Modern economies, that demand people to work longer hours, produce more and buy more, are at odds with what people really need most.
“It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time,’ ” Waldinger said.
A better work-life balance and a simpler life allows people more time to focus on relationships with family and friends as well as those other things in life that offer meaning and well-being, like—self-improvement and learning; rest and reflection; exercise; cultural activities and events; contributions to the community; and, hobbies and recreation.