We all strive for success in our business and in life but what is the real key to living a long and happy life?
Our society teaches us that a ‘good life’ is the result of achieving a lot through hard work and perseverance – we call it success. So the majority of us keep our noses to the grindstone, constantly pushing ourselves to achieve that next big goal. We tell ourselves ‘We’ll be happy when…’
Unfortunately, our ‘when’ rarely arrives. Or at least once it does we’ve already moved the goal post and are working on the next crucial target.
This happens until one day (usually middle age or later) we suddenly wonder where the time went. We can’t work out why we’re not happy even though we’ve amassed a collection of achievements and a whole lot of ‘stuff’. Most of what we know about what makes a happy, fulfilling life has been learnt by asking people to remember their past.
Recently a study published by Harvard University has given us never seen before insight into this area. This landmark study spent over 70 years tracking the lives of 724 participants from their teen years into old age to see what really keeps people happy and healthy. It’s one of the longest studies ever done on normal adult development.
Here is a rundown on the study…
Group one was 268 men who began in the study as Harvard sophomores. They finished college during World War 2 and most of them went off to serve in the war.
Group two was 456 inner-city Boston boys who began the study between ages 12-16. These boys were selected from the poorest neighbourhoods and were specifically chosen from some of the most troubled families of 1930’s Boston. They went on to become a broad range of professionals – factory workers, lawyers, bricklayers, doctors and even a president of the United States of America. Some developed alcoholism and schizophrenia, while others climbed from the very bottom of the social ladder right to the top.
The researchers surveyed the men about their lives every two years and monitored their physical health every five years. Questionnaires were answered, interviews conducted, X-rays, blood and brain scan were taken, children spoke with and wives included. Participants were even filmed talking with their wives about their deepest concerns.
Nearly twenty of the original participants are still alive (now in their 90’s) and Harvard is beginning to study their children (almost 1500 of them).
So what was learnt from the study?
There are tens of thousands of pages of data and much of it is yet to be fully explored. Robert Waldinger is the current director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and an associate professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. He distilled the lesson of the study into three major lessons in a 2015 Ted Talk that to date has had over 16 million views.
You can watch the video here:
The major message from the 70 years of data is that good relationship keeps us happier and healthier.
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The bottom line – Ensure that the care and maintenance of your close personal relationships are at the top of your to-do list. Science has proven that doing so will ensure long-term health and happiness.
This is not a new concept. It’s old wisdom and not at all complicated.
So why is it something we struggle with?
Waldinger has the answer to that too…
“Because we’re human. We want the easy answer – the quick fix we can just go and get. Relationships are messy and they’re lifelong hard work.”
Hard work that science that science has now proven is more than worth the effort.
“Society places a lot of emphasis on wealth and ‘leaning in’ to our work”, Waldinger said. “But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned into relationships – with family, with friends, with the community.”
So its time to get off the computer and phone and schedule some face to face time with a friend. Schedule a new regular activity with someone you love. Reach out to any family members you haven’t seen for a while. Take long walks with your partner. Get down on the carpet and play with your kids.
You’ll be grateful that you did – this is very likely a major key to living a happy life.