Happy 2022, everyone!
It’s a new year, and for many individuals that means starting New Year’s Resolutions. If you’ve decided to use the new year as a way to encourage yourself to start a new habit or work on yourself in some way, then I applaud you! And if not, I don’t blame you, because I don’t typically create New Year’s Resolutions for myself either.
We’ve all been there, wanting to work out more, eat better, lose weight: all habits that will make us physically healthier. But what if there was data to support that building quality relationships was more important for your health than all of those things?
Scientists at Harvard University have proven the importance of close relationships in our lives by running an observational study for nearly eighty years. This study, which began back in 1938, tracked 724 participants throughout their lives. Participants came from two cohorts: Harvard University students and kids from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods (Mineo, 2017).
Fun fact: John F. Kennedy—yes, JFK, the thirty-fifth president of the USA—was a part of the Harvard cohort!
The study included surveys, medical exams, and interviews of each participant every two years. Additionally, the researchers interviewed parents and spouses to better understand the study participants’ lifestyles and relationships. Lastly, the researchers also taped conversations between the subjects and their spouses to better gauge their connectedness.
In his 2015 TED talk describing the study results, Robert Waldinger, director of this landmark study, shared the key finding of this research was that “good relationships keep us happier and healthier. 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.
“When we gathered together everything we knew about [the participants] at age fifty, it wasn’t their middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age fifty were the healthiest at age eighty.”
Is that to say that we can skip the gym, eat all the junk food in world, and completely forget about our physical health? Of course not!
But what it does mean is that 2022 should be used to build, maintain, and enhance your close relationships with others.
Trust me, your eighty-year-old self will thank you for it!
Biarnes, Michael. Redefining Success: Stories, Science, and Strategies to Prioritize Happiness and Overcome Life’s “Oh Sh!t” Moments. Maryland: New Degree Press, 2021. https://www.amazon.com/dp/163730806X/
Mineo, Liz. “Good Genes Are Nice, But Joy Is Better.” The Harvard Gazette, April 11, 2017. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-beenshowing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/.
Waldinger, Robert. “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.” Filmed November 2015 at TEDxBeaconStreet, Boston, MA. Video, 12:38. https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_what_makes_a_good_life_lessons_from_the_longest_study_on_happiness?language=en.