In your life, what are you most thankful for? What does a good life look like for you?
Millennials were recently asked about their goals and what would make for a good life for them. Over 80% said they wanted to be rich. The next closest answer was to be famous.
Today society pushes for people to work harder and achieve more and to believe that is what will result in happiness and the good life. How does that compare with how you would answer that question? If you gained riches or fame would that be what you would be most thankful for?
An important study
Actually, there’s a famous study, the Harvard Study of Adult Development that started in 1938 that might shine some light on those questions. People’s memories of past events are not always accurate. This study is important because it’s not just how people remembered what happened in their lives. The events were captured as their lives unfolded.
The Harvard researchers took a total of 724 men and put them in two groups and followed the men and their lives. The first group were Harvard sophomores. The second group were young men from disadvantaged homes and Boston’s poorest families.
For more than 75 years the researchers followed up on these men with in-person interviews, interviews with family members and also obtained their medical records.
As the study continued, in 2016 there were only 60 participants remaining and they were in their 90s. However, these men continued to participate in the study. The researchers then were able to go on to study the children of the men who were in the original study.
What do you think the study found? Were fame and fortune what made for a good life?
No, wealth and fame were not what made for a good life.
Actually, what the study revealed is that good relationships were what helped the men to be both healthier and happier. And that makes for a good life and a lot to be thankful for.
The researchers felt that they learned a lot from this extended study. Here are some of the lessons to have a good, long happy life.
First, the study showed that it’s helpful to be socially active. Loneliness is still one of the biggest problems in our world today. Often when people are lonely, they physically and mentally decline faster and they die sooner.
Unfortunately, with the pandemic, recent statistics showed at least 3 of every 5 Americans now report that they are lonely. People who are most connected to family, friends and are engaged in a community can help avoid loneliness and they tend to be healthier, happier and live longer.
Second, the quality of your relationships matter. It’s not whether you’re in a committed relationship or about the number of friends, it’s about good relationships. It doesn’t mean they have to be married, but having friends, family and good neighbors can contribute to health and longevity. Living in a relationship with conflict is really bad for health.
In the study, when they looked at the participants at age 50, they found that it wasn’t the medical statistics that predicted longevity, it was how satisfied they were with their relationships.
Good for the brain
Third, good relationships not only positively affect the body, they also positively affect the brain. When they were in a secure relationship in their 80s with people they could count on, their memories stayed sharper, longer. Also, when people retired, they replaced their workmates with new good relationships which also kept the brain active.
What about you? What are you most thankful for? Is it fame or fortune? Or is it your relationships?
We remember what Robert Waldinger, the fourth director, said when he summed up the Harvard Study findings, “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
For us, as we look at our blessings, we are grateful for our many good relationships. There are family, friends, neighbors and God, as those we can really count on.
We wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, many good relationships and a long, happy and healthy life.
Chanhassen MN residents, Doug and Lynn Nodland are success coaches and owners of The
Balance Center in Excelsior. Contact them: WeCare@SharingLifesLessons.com.