It has taken nearly 80 years and a variety of research studies to produce the result: a good genetic makeup and wealth really have very little to do with living a long and happy life. The Harvard Study of Adult Development launched in 1938, looking into the lives of high-profile participants such as Ben Bradlee and John F. Kennedy. Over the years, it has been expanded to add inner-city residents along with offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the results were surprising, to say the least.
The results from the study determined that the very best predictors of a long and happy life were not IQ, genetics, fame, finances, or social status but simply close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the research study and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Psychiatrist George Vaillant who spearheaded the study between 1972 – 2004, shared in his book “Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development,” the contributing factors that forecast healthy aging:
- The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
- Physical activity
- Mature mechanisms in place to deal with difficulties in life
- Sustaining a healthy weight
- Having a stable marriage
In a nutshell, self-care is crucial to our level of joy – from the perspective of both mental and physical health – and investing time and effort to make your relationships the best they can be most definitely falls under that umbrella as well. As a matter of fact, additional research studies have revealed that the satisfaction level people experience in their relationships is a much more accurate determinant of what their physical health will be later in life than physical factors like cholesterol levels.
The research also upended prior thinking that our personalities are carved in stone by age 30. Many people who struggled in their early adult years enjoyed fulfilling later years, while others excelled at the beginning of life but ran into challenges later because of mental health issues and alcoholism.
The research on how to live a long and happy life is ongoing, looking into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to learn, such as how to better regulate stress and whether a difficult childhood makes a difference in middle age and later years.
Let Home Sweet Home In-Home Care’s compassionate caregivers help instill joy in an older adult’s life; reach out to us today about home care in Kalamazoo, MI and the surrounding communities! Our caregivers serve as friendly companions to engage in conversations, exercise, and pleasant activities together, fostering socialization and additional relational connections. We can be contacted 24/7 at (866) 229-2505 to schedule a free of charge in-home assessment to find out more information.