Last night I came across a TEDTalk by Robert Waldinger, the Director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, titled “What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness”.
It turns out The Harvard Study of Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life that’s ever been run. They tracked the lives of 724 men, for 75 years, year after year, asking about their work, their home lives, their health and more. About 60 of the original 724 men are still alive and participating in the study, most of them in their 90s.
What did they find?
It turns out the lessons weren’t about wealth, fame or working harder. As Mr. Waldinger said,
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Social connections are literally good for our health and on the flip side, loneliness, is toxic.
Yes we may be eating well and exercising all the time but if we are lonely and isolated we are at more of a risk than someone who has quality relationships.
“...when we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, 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 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
It turns out quality warm relationships are protective of our health.
And as Waldinger mentioned in his talk, “the sad fact is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans will report that they’re lonely.”
This is a tragedy.
While we focus on the latest diet trends and foods for healthy living and longevity it seems the one vital aspect of our health goes largely ignored. And that is the aspect of healthy relationships and the absence of loneliness.
So what can we do about this? What can we do today?
Well first we need to focus on the self. Look at ourselves. Look at our behaviors.
When you’re with other people are you engaged? I mean truly engaged. Or are you constantly checking your phone for the latest message?
I know I’m guilty of the one above, especially when I’m with my own family and I even know it drives me nuts when friends do the same thing. So my first step is remaining aware of this behavior and every time I catch myself reaching for the phone or tablet, instead I will consciously put it down and say no until I am alone and am not losing precious time with those I love.
Second, we need to think about others.
Who do we know needs to get out more?
We could be thinking about our very introverted friend who has confided that they feel left out. Or we could consider the new mom who is suddenly separate of regular social interactions due to friends not knowing when they can reach out. Or what about the new person at church or at work who you know just moved here? Maybe invite them to join you and your friends at dinner. You never know what could unfold.
All I’m saying is you never know what impact you may have just by reaching out. You may unknowingly reach that 1 person in 5 in America who feels lonely. Maybe you can be part of changing that statistic.
Ultimately, whether or not a friendship entails, it helps you since you will feel more connected to the community.
So to conclude I would like to ask, should we be “leaning in” (to steal Sheryl Sandbergs’ term) to work? Or should we instead lean into relationships with family, community and friends?
I would argue the latter.
Watch the full TEDTalk Here.