People always ask me – what’s the key to a happy life?
I’ve read the blogs—just like you have—that talk about how all you need is love. Yeah, thanks. I’ve also seen what’s on my television set—money, fame, power—and how that’s often attributed to success and happiness. And quite frankly, I’m nowhere near convinced that that leads to a happy life.
So, the trillion-dollar question is this: what is the key to a happy life? I bet you want the answer just as much as I do.
The Key to a Happy Life: Look at Your Relationships
In 1938, Harvard University began tracking over 700 men from a variety of social backgrounds. As the men have aged, the researchers began to track their wives and children, too. These men and their families have all gone in countless directions: some were successful businessmen while others had failed careers; some became lawyers while others turned to a life of crime. Some became doctors while others lost themselves at a young age to mental health problems. One even became the president of the United States of America—his name was John Fitzgerald Kennedy.
But regardless of what conditions these men were born into—whether they were part of privileged families or grew up in troubled homes or tough neighborhoods—money and career had little to do with how happy they and their families became.
This massive study spanning over 70 years—and partly funded by the federal government—shows that the all-important barometers for a happy life, good health, and well-being are the relationships you hold with your family, friends, and spouse.
Healthy Aging Through a Healthy, Active Lifestyle
They found that smoking is the worst inhibitor of healthy aging. They also learned that alcohol use is the primary cause for divorce among men, and that alcohol abuse is a precursor to depression and not the other way around. In short: stop smoking and cut back on the booze.
To acquire their data, researchers conducted intense interviews with the men and their families, videotaping them to analyze movements and words. They also interviewed spouses separately so that they would be more candid—after all, people are far more likely to open up in private.
People who had the strongest marriages tended to be protected from chronic disease, mental illness, and memory decline. This was even true if spouses were constantly arguing. But as long as they could be counted on and were there for each other when it mattered, there were positive outcomes.
Relationships with friends were also important, as those who replaced old colleagues with new friends were happier, showing that social networks are essential to happiness as well.
After tracking subjects and their families for over 70 years it’s safe to say that the findings are pretty accurate. Although they don’t prove causation, the correlations are very strong between health, happiness, and personal relationships.
So, the answer to the trillion-dollar question looks something like this: Don’t smoke, don’t drink too much, spend time with your friends, love your spouse and have an active relationship, and call a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while!
Sources for Today’s Article:
“The Harvard Study of Adult Development,” Harvard Medical School web site; http://adultdevelopment.wix.com/harvardstudy, last accessed April 4, 2016.
O’Connor, A., “The Secrets to a Happy Life, From a Harvard Study,” New York Times web site, March 23, 2016; http://mobile.nytimes.com/blogs/well/2016/03/23/the-secrets-to-a-happy-life-from-a-harvard-study/?smid=fb-nytimes&smtyp=cur&_r=0&referer=http://m.facebook.com, last accessed April 4, 2016.