We have sought after the secret to living a happy and long life for far too long without realizing that the answer has been literally in front of us.
We pursue careers, money, and fame to feel happier; we try to keep a healthy diet, and we frantically search for new information on what is healthy and what’s not.
But the truth is that whatever we do, there will always be people who live a life which goes against all our rules, and yet live longer and happier lives.
So, what do we really need to live long and happy lives?
This question was something that Harvard psychologists have been working on for 75 years and the results are finally in. Robert J. Waldinger, the fourth director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, has revealed the three most important secrets to a long and happy life, and amazingly, they have nothing to do with money or dieting.
The study began in 1938 and it originally focused on 700 men from different backgrounds in their early to late teens.
The researchers regularly checked in with the participants every 2 years until old age and these check-ins still continue today for those participants that are still alive, while also adding their wives and children in the focus groups.
In his TED talk, Waldinger shares three very important lessons of what they discovered from the research:
1. The more socially connected you are, the better and happier life you will live
Waldinger points that social connections contribute to a happier, healthier and longer life. Living a life with people you can connect with, talk to and share your happy and sad moments means living a high-quality life which will contribute to the long-term happiness you have always wished for.
“It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they are physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected,” says Waldinger.
Opposed to social connection, loneliness brings the opposite effects. Loneliness can occur even when surrounded by people, even with a partner. This feeling mainly comes as a result of the quality of the relationships we nurture, which brings us to the second lesson.
2. The quality, not the quantity, of your relationships matters the most
“…The second big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters,” says Waldinger.
Living in conflict with the people you spend your life with is very damaging to your health. High conflict marriages have turned out to be worse for a person’s health than a divorce.
In fact, the study tried to correlate the longevity of the participants to a point in their life and it turned out that a predictor for a long life could be found in their satisfaction from the relationships they had at age 50. Waldinger pointed that “the people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
3. Good relationships protect our brains as well as our bodies
Whether it’s a marital partnership or a positive relationship with a friend, family member or coworker, the key point of a good relationship is the ability to rely on the other person. Having someone to count on in times of need means having a healthier brain.
“The people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer…The people in relationships where they really feel they can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experienced earlier memory decline,” says Waldinger.
This kind of relationship based on trust and reliability doesn’t necessarily mean that it would be smooth all the time. Every relationship comes with ups and downs. The key element in these relationships is the partners’ ability to rely on each other and feel protected.
Happiness and longevity come from your connection with the people you love, trust, and truly respect.