If you were going to invest now in the happiness of your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?
Money, right? Lean in to work, push harder and accomplish more to achieve financial security. We’re given the impression that these are the things that we need to go after in order to be happy and have a “good life.”
But what if we’ve gotten it all wrong?
For the past 75 years, the Harvard Study of Adult Development tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.
They tracked two distinctly different groups of men:
The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard College. They all finished college during World War II, and then most went off to serve in the war.
The second group that they followed was a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, boys who were chosen for the study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in the Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.
So what did they learn? Well, the lessons weren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message they got from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
The three biggest lessons?
- The first is that social connections are really good for and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic.
- The second big lesson they 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. It turns out that living in the midst of conflict is really bad for our health. High-conflict marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships is protective.
- And the third big lesson that they learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that 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. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline.
The people in the 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Many of the men when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over the 75 years, the study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.
So, what about you? How are you investing in your future happiness?
Until next time,
To Your Growth & Profits
William De Temple, CEO Antirion LLc
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