I was listening to a podcast the other day and came across a study conducted by Harvard University, which followed a group men from the college and later on other participants, over nearly 80 years to see if they could tease out some clues on how to live a healthy and happy life.
You can read the article released by Harvard on it below.
One of the most important take away points they learnt from the study was the importance of relationships.
That is, taking care of our physical and mental health is important, but just as paramount for a healthy and happy life is investing in our relationships. Even more than money or fame.
Furthermore, strong, secure relationships also seem to protect brain function. They seem to help lessen the subjective experience of pain. The researchers hypothesize it may have something to do with the impact of social connection on stress responses in our bodies. That is, having healthy, strong relationships may help to lessen the negative impact stress has on us biologically.
So what can we take away from this? We are social creatures. Everything about us has evolved to allow us to function best in community. Can you remember a time when you were upset or stressed out? What was the first thing you did? Send an angry message to your partner? Call your mother? Or even if you don’t normally reach out, how did you feel when somebody else messaged you when they knew you were going through something? We all feel better when we have someone we know who cares about us, even if they can’t do anything to fix the situation. Just knowing they care is sometimes enough. And now we have the science to back up what we all already instinctively know: good relationships make us healthier.
So don’t neglect your relationships for the sake of work or for the pursuit of success. There’s no point in having the world if you don’t have people to share it with.
And furthermore, see how you can help others. The researchers of the Harvard study found that lonely people often died earlier than people in warm, healthy, happy relationships. And I can definitely attest to that. It isn’t uncommon to see a patient’s health deteriorate after the passing of their spouse. So why don’t you strike up a conversation with the coffee barista, or say hi to your lonely neighbour? You have no idea what a simple hello could mean to someone going through a tough time.
The study found that how satisfied people were with their relationships at the age of 50 were a better predictor of physical health at age 90 than their cholesterol levels were. I’m always getting patients coming in and asking about doing blood tests for their cholesterol. Maybe I should start asking them how their relationships are going instead.