One of the most fascinating studies I have ever come across is the 80+ year long study on aging and happiness now led by our friend at Harvard Dr. Robert Waldinger. This research has been tracking the lives of 268 people who were sophomores at school in 1938.
That the study is still going is amazing in and of itself. Dr. Bob is the study’s fourth director, and the work continues to enlighten us on the key factors to a long and happy life.
This study isn’t just a simple check in once a year, i.e., “How are you doing?” No, the researchers take blood samples, conduct brain scans, interview partners and children. They have collected a mountain of data.
What have they found? What is the secret to a long and happy life? One big factor: Deep and meaningful relationships.
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“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Dr. Bob, who is also a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important; but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That's the revelation.”
It makes perfect sense, doesn’t it? When we have deep and healthy relationships our lives are richer and more meaningful, but we also have better physical and mental health. That is something to be grateful for every day.
What are we doing to make sure we tend to those relationships?
We often set goals to lose weight, eat better, get more exercise and so on. We get on the scale every day and record what we eat to make sure we are on track. But do we set goals to tend to our friends and loved ones? Do we remind ourselves to measure how kind we are to those who mean the most to us, to make sure our relationships are happy and healthy?
I recently made a list of all the people that have made my life better. People that have impacted my life for the better, of relationships that are deep and meaningful. The list is too long to add to this article. The list of family members alone can fill a page. I included teachers, coaches, co-workers, friends from school and church, partners in business, people I’ve met in client companies and at conferences and in my travels. Many of you who will read this article are probably on the list.
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When we reflect on the people in our lives who matter most to us, the list will grow longer than we can imagine. We are all blessed with the gift of friendship. We sometimes forget to nurture those relationships and remember to thank those around us for their kindness and love.
Today let me issue a little challenge. Nothing too grand, just a simple task. Reach out to someone you love and care about. A friend. Send them a text. Call them on the phone. Craft a simple handwritten letter (one of my favorites). Thank them for their friendship, their love and support. They will love hearing from you, and you will love thinking about the impact that dear friend has had on your life.
If you want extra credit, then send a love letter to your spouse or partner. Let them know that you are thinking about them and let them know in specific terms how much they mean to you and why.
If the research teaches us anything, it’s that relationships matter. Friendships make our lives richer, happier and healthier. Add to your daily workout routine a message to an old friend. Take time with a family member to ask about their day, be sure to have lunch or dinner with your partner or spouse.
This article was first published on Chester Elton's LinkedIn.
This article is also available in Chinese.
Hang on! Before you leave us, do you know what Scott Friedman say sabout happiness? Watch this video below.