Wouldn’t we all like to know what the secret to true happiness and good health is? What would make us really content in life?
If someone were to ask me this question on my way to work, I would have blurted money or fame, or both. Apparently, I am not the only millennial who thinks that money can give us eternal happiness, and adding fame to that just means that we have made it in life.
We have been brought up on the idea that the harder we work, the more we earn, the happier we will be. But is this really true? Does money really make you truly happy? Happy enough to be hale and hearty even in your 80’s? As many might have suspected by now, money is clearly not the answer we are looking for. There is no doubt that money makes our lives easier and gives us access to services and support, but there is one thing in life which contributes a much larger portion to our overall happiness, contentment and quality of life – the quality of our relationships.
Before someone ridicules me and dismisses this as some idealistic hope, let me tell you that there is a very valid, scientific research behind this conclusion. In fact, this research is quite unique as it might be the oldest ongoing research. The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been undertaken for the past 75 years and data is still being collected and analyzed to find out what makes life worth it. The research is now being headed by its 4th director, Robert Waldinger. And he has some very interesting facts for us.
The focus group of the research, when it was first undertaken in 1938, was comprised of 724 people, belonging to 2 sections of the society – Harvard Sophomores and Troubled youth from Boston’s most poor neighborhoods. The lives of these men were observed through the Second World War, their years as young professionals, their rise and fall. And now the study follows the children of these men (more than 2000 in number) as well as 60 of the original focus group who are still alive.
The study involved more than questionnaires and surveys. There were regular medical checkups, as well as regularly documented interviews.
According to Robert Waldinger, so far three very important conclusions have been drawn from the findings of the research:
1. Firstly, companionship is the key to longevity and good health. Being with like-minded people and forming close relationships helps us stay happy and healthy. Also, being alone leads to unhappiness and even ill health. People who are in touch with their friends and family enjoy good health even as they age, whereas those who are lonely become the victim of many health issues quite early in life. In other words, loneliness is dangerous and toxic enough to kill you. So if you wish to have a longer lifespan, give importance to your interpersonal relationships.
2. Secondly, like every other important thing in life, even this condition is based on quality and not quantity. The bond and closeness of your relationships matters more than the number of relationships that you have. Alternatively, if there is constant conflict in the relationship, it does more harm than good. People who were found to be more happy and content with their spouse at the age of 50 were considerably very hale and hearty at the age of 80. Those who didn’t have that kind of closeness or happiness in their relationship were found to be afflicted with comparatively more health problems.
3. Finally, and this might be the most groundbreaking results of all, the quality of your personal relationships seems to have a direct connection to your cognitive well-being. Those people who felt more secure and satisfied in their relationships were found to have lower levels of memory and brain degeneration in comparison to those who were not. This doesn’t mean that the couple who doesn’t fight would have better cognitive functioning at 80 than the one who bickers every day. It depends on the feeling of love and unconditional support that the partners feel in each other’s company. Even if a couple fights a lot, but deep down inside is secure in the knowledge that their spouse would be there for them when needed, they would have better memories and other abilities even in their old age.
In other words, the answer to all our problems is love. True that we need money to survive, but we cannot be truly happy without love and companionship, whether it is of the romantic kind or otherwise.