“What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age?” posed Robert Waldinger on the stage of his wildly-popular TED Talk.
Robert is the fourth director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development—one of the world’s longest running studies on health and aging. It started back in 1938 and all 724 survey participants were male. One survey group was selected from Harvard’s sophomore class and the others from among Boston’s hardest and poorest neighborhoods (Grant & Glueck study).
The study included significant others as well as children and grandchildren of participants. One of the most prominent members of the study was the former President John F. Kennedy. Data was collected from medical records, brain scans, blood tests, in-person interviews with wives and children, as well as study questions answered by participants themselves.
And do you know what they found?
Waldinger says it’s simple:
“The clearest message we get from this study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”
Marital satisfaction was a predictor of better moods when dealing with physical pain and even preserving mental health and memory for participants. Cholesterol levels, smoker or non-smoker, chronic pain, alcohol use, and income level aside—the biggest truth is that our relationships are the secret to long-life and happiness.
As a coach, I get excited when I think about the implications of this study for our lives. It confirms everything we’ve hung our hats on—that true success can only be measured by the amount of love in our lives.
Relational leaders are generous. Caring and quick to share success with others. They prioritize important relationships and are less likely to take people for granted or to let relationships fizzle out. Relational leaders take seriously their contribution other people’s lives and strive to create a harmonious work culture. They consider their spouses in big decisions. Relational leaders see people and they love people and in turn, are cared for by the very same warmth they’ve created.
None of us are perfect, but at the end of the day, it’s good to know that over 80 years of research can tell us what we’ve had a hunch about all along:
Without good people all around us, we will fail.
Here are three points that the research clearly summarizes for us:
- Well-connected people are living happier, more healthy lives.
- The quality of close relationships is essential. Living in the midst of conflict is toxic for our minds and bodies.
- Physical health is less a predictor of long life than the quality of relationships with friends, family, and community.
Armed with the truth that relationships are the thing that keeps us afloat, we can begin to take inventory of our lives in these areas, knowing that they matter a great deal.
To your excellence in keeping healthy, close relationships,