I was a reading a study conducted by Harvard that followed a cohort of people beginning in 1938 throughout their lives. They wanted to see what the attributes were to living a fuller/healthier life as opposed to one that was not quite as long or enjoyable. There were things on the list we all know like smoking and drinking less. Another thing that appeared on the list that was seen to contribute to a life well-lived was something that sat outside of our control though— it was a fulfilled childhood. In speaking to one of the many purposes of the study, the current director, Professor Robert Wadinger stated, “We want to find out how it is that a difficult childhood reaches across decades to break down the body in middle age and later.” So essentially, if you had a nice childhood where you felt safe and loved, you were on the trajectory to aging well. But that is a big bummer for those who didn’t feel those things as children. Thankfully, though, there is light at the end of the tunnel. It was shown that building new relationships could affect in a person the once missing results that would have been brought on by qualities of safety and love from their childhood. So, we do have some ability to reconcile a broken past. It’s through our current ability to build relationships.
Here are some of the big things that jumped out of the article to me:
“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives… Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes.”
“… people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.”
“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80.”
“Those who kept warm relationships got to live longer and happier, said Waldinger, and the loners often died earlier. ‘Loneliness kills,’ he said. ‘It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.’”
Some of my friends and I tend to sit in agreement that as people grow, they grow apart. “Life happens”is what we often say agreeing that marriages and work life make it too difficult to maintain relationships. The fact is, some people absolutely do grow apart. I’m not as interested in the things I was interested in 20 years ago, but some of my friends from that time still are. So there are very few of us that can still relate to one another as we’ve grown into new people. But there are people we can relate to much more easily now, as they’re in similar fields and involved with similar activities that we’re now interested in. But we kind of take those relationships for granted, almost thinking that we still have our old friends so why do we need new ones? The reality is you haven’t actually connected with those old friends in months and you don’t really have much to connect with them on now anyway. Outside of reminiscing of who you once were. That doesn’t mean to let those relationships dissolve into nothing, as I said there are some relationships from those distant times in our lives that still remain strong. But we need to realize that many of those old relationships have in fact passed on and we need to work at building new relationships with people that are currently entering into our lives.
Something that stands out to me from this study is that it is not saying that our health and happiness are dependent on an eternity-long love story or perfect marriage. It is talking about relationships, period. Family, friends, husbands, wives… Relationships. The relationships in our lives are what give our lives meaning, substance, light, excitement, joy, and purpose!
As I usually do with most things that I believe in, I want to dive in headfirst. After reading this study and writing this post, my mind immediately goes to, “Alright! I need to have a friend-meetup-group-thing scheduled every Wednesday and somehow concentrate on growing and working on my relationships more… but who has the time! I also have work, the gym, eating right, studying, writing, LIFE!”
Maybe you’re not as crazy as I am but that’s what my mind tends to look like. That’s why I loved how the article ended…
“It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time,’ ” Waldinger said. “So I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to.”
Pretty simple advice right there. Just try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to. I can do that. *lets out a deep relaxing breath*