The answer to that question varies depending on the person, but typical answers revolve around health and happiness. Is true happiness so elusive that we continually yearn for it year after year? And what makes a person happy? Is it money? Travel? Or is it something else? Do the things that make you happy also make me happy?
Well, we may now know the answer. A study completed at Harvard University has been digging into the question “What makes us happy?” for 75 years (and still continues today). The answer may surprise you.
Keep reading or watch the video above to learn more.
About The Study
The Harvard Study of Adult Development has tracked the lives of 724 men for more than 75 years. The study has looked into their lives – their work, their home life, and their quality of life.
The study was divided into two groups of men. One group started when the men were sophomores at Harvard. Many of these participants graduated and went to serve in World War II. The second group were young boys from some of the poorest neighborhoods of Boston. Every two years, these men are interviewed. 60 of the original 724 participants are still alive today.
So, What Was The Outcome?
The study has picked up on a few conclusions, but one conclusion has come out crystal clear among both groups and across all 724 men. Good relationships keep us happy and healthy. So there you go – now we know the answer. But the study digs a little deeper. There are three big lessons that the study brings to light.
The men in the study who were well connected with family and friends in social relationships were happier, healthier, and lived longer lives. Every time. Those men who experienced less-than-adequate relationships throughout their lives, or expressed regret about relationships, were not satisfied with their lives, and they experienced a decline in health much earlier in life.
2. Quality Over Quantity
You may be reading this article and thinking “I need to go get more friends,” but don’t rush off just yet. The study has also shown that it doesn’t matter how many friends or connections you have in your life. You can still be lonely and suffer the deathly consequences with hundreds of friends. What makes the difference is the quality of the relationships in your life. The men in the study who had quality relationships with their spouse and friends were the ones that lived longer, happier lives. Being a part of a bad relationship is worse than not having the relationship at all. Staying in that relationship long-term can be toxic.
3. Brain Power
Good relationships are good for your body and physical health, but as it turns out, they are also essential for your brain. The study followed many men into late-life and found that those men who were in deeply connected relationships (where they could count on another person) kept their memory and brain function much longer than those that didn’t. The men who did not have these types of relationships began to experience memory loss earlier. Perhaps the lonely men subconsciously wanted to forget their lonely lives.
What Does This Mean To You And Me?
You probably already knew that relationships were good for you on some level. The results of this study aren’t too surprising. But still, even today, when young people are asked what they want most out of life and what they believe will make them happy, the typical answer isn’t good relationships. And it should be.
This same Harvard study has begun a new round of participants – millennials. They began with the same questions they asked 75 years ago. The answers they received were strikingly similar. The average younger person still has a skewed perception of happiness. Perhaps they are not aware of this Harvard study. Wealth, fame, and all other materialistic items will not keep you alive longer. They will not make you truly happy. They will not keep you from early-onset memory loss. But a good relationship or two will.
How To Have Meaningful Relationships
1. Act On Your Desire To Connect
If you find yourself thinking about spending time with someone or missing someone, act on it. So many times we hear a song that reminds us of our mother or run across an old photo of a close friend, and we don’t do a thing about it. Why not pick up the phone or go for a visit? If you feel a desire to connect with someone, act on it. Perhaps your subconscious brain is sending you a signal that you need to improve that relationship.
2. Spend Quality Time Together
In today’s world, we are able to stay in touch virtually like we’ve never been able to before. But there is a big difference between sending a Facebook message and enjoying a cup of coffee at a local café. Don’t settle for virtual relationships. If you want to reap the benefits of being happy, spend real time together. Nurture your relationships with quality time, empathic listening, and genuine concern for each other.
3. Make An Effort
Relationships don’t happen on autopilot. They take work, and that work never ends. You must make an effort to deepen relationships. Make time for the people that matter most to you. Make them a priority in your life, no matter how busy you get.
While no one can guarantee you’ll live to be a hundred years old if you have quality relationships, the results of this unique Harvard study show that it is pretty much impossible to live a long, happy life without them. Take a good look around your life. What are the things that make you happiest. Is it the money you have? The car you drive? Or is it the people that you love? And if you love those people, isn’t it worth your effort to make those relationships great? Not only will you be happier long-term, but you’ll probably also live longer!
Melissa Ricker is a nuclear engineer and a professional freelance writer specializing in career growth, technical writing and online entrepreneurship. She writes a blog, Engineered Motherhood, for working mothers who need help balancing career growth and time management.