Surveys show that most young adults believe that obtaining wealth and fame are keys to a happy life.
But a long-running study out of Harvard suggests that one of the most important predictors of whether you age well and live a long and happy life is not the amount of money you amass or notoriety you receive. A much more important barometer of long term health and well-being is the strength of your relationships with family, friends and spouses.
These are some of the findings from the Harvard Study of Adult Development, a research project that since 1938 has closely tracked and examined the lives of more than 700 men and in some cases their spouses.
The study began in Boston in the 1930s with two very different groups of young men.
In one case, a team of researchers decided to track Harvard college students through adulthood to see what factors played important roles in their growth and success.
At around the same time the study began, a Harvard Law School professor named Sheldon Glueck started to study young men from some of Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, including 456 who managed to avoid delinquency despite coming from troubled homes. Eventually the two groups were merged into one study.
Through the years, the study has produced many notable findings. It showed, for example, that to age well physically, the single most important thing you could do was to avoid smoking.
As the researchers looked at the factors throughout the years that strongly influenced health and well-being, they found that relationships with friends, and especially spouses, were a major one.
The study’s current director, Robert Waldinger, acknowledged that the research showed a correlation, not necessarily causation.
But he said that by following the subjects for many decades and comparing the state of their health and their relationships early on, he was fairly confident that strong social bonds are a causal role in long-term health and well-being.
So what concrete actions does he recommend?
“The possibilities are endless,” he said. “Something as simple as replacing screen time with people time, or livening up a stale relationship by doing something new together, long walks or date nights. Reach out to that family member you haven’t spoken to in years—because those alltoo- common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.” (Excerpted from http://international.nytimes.com)