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How Relationships Affect Happiness

The Key to Happiness and Living Longer? Harvard Found It

What's the secret to happiness and health? According to Harvard professor and psychiatrist Robert Waldinger, it has nothing to do with fame, money, or success.

"Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period."

In a multigenerational study that began at Harvard in the 1930s, two groups were studied: male Harvard students (which the New York Times noted included John F. Kennedy) and young boys from disadvantaged families living in Boston's poorest neighborhoods. Through brain scans, interviews with the subjects (and eventually their families), blood analyses, and health exams, the 75+ year study has given a pretty profound conclusion. Happiness and health are all about relationships.

Here are the biggest takeaways:

  1. People who are more socially connected are happier, physically healthier, and live longer.
  2. Quality is more important than quantity when it comes to close relationships; relationship satisfaction predicts future health.
  3. While high-conflict marriages can be worse than divorce, a "good relationship" doesn't mean zero bickering. There are ups and downs, but the trust, commitment, and respect are key.
  4. "Loneliness kills." The feeling of loneliness can be toxic; people who are isolated are less happy, their health declines sooner, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives.

In his Ted Talk, Waldinger reminded us to lean in to our relationships as much as we do our professional endeavors; our lives depend on it! Make friends in and out of work, and nurture your relationships with friends, family, and significant others, no matter how challenging it is. "Relationships are messy and complicated; it's not sexy or glamorous. But it's life-long."

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