When you’re a cute little grand person sitting on your porch someday—obviously still rocking high-waisted leggings with a matcha latte in hand—which parts of your long and awesome life do you think will have made you feel the happiest and most fulfilled? Probably not hitting a certain number of Insta followers or all those times you ditched friends to put in extra-long hours at work, right? The truth is, the single biggest contributor to well-being has been identified, and it’s much simpler.
For a study that ran 75 years out of Harvard, researchers collected data on the well-being of two groups: 268 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939 to 1944, and 456 men from inner-city neighborhoods in Boston. Over the years, researchers analyzed which aspects of the participants’ early lives led to future contentment (using methods like brain scans and self-reported surveys). The main result? “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period,” says Robert Waldinger, MD, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development.
The study shows having love in your life—whether that’s with a significant other or great friends—makes you healthier both physically and mentally. This is largely due to the study’s finding that your nervous system is better able to relax when you have someone upon whom to rely—a total win that can mean longer-term brain health and decreased pain. The inverse situation for lonelier participants, who didn’t have close relationships, meant more rapidly declining health and a shorter lifespan. And forget about having to have a huge group of BFFs to reap the benefits: “It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship. It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters,” Dr. Waldinger says.
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.” —Dr. Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development
So sure, working your way up the corporate ladder and getting hundreds of likes on your shared photos might seem like the most important things now. But if you’re not focusing enough of your time on the people you love, you’ll likely regret it in the end.
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