Lifetime happiness is an elusive notion, one that has been discussed over generations. The answer to happiness has always been retold like folklore, but now there is scientific proof. A 75 year Harvard Study of Adult Development, revealed that the key to long term happiness, mental and physical health, is having healthy relationships.
[Close relationships] 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.Harvard study, almost 80 years old, has proved that embracing community helps us live longer, and be happier By Liz Mineo
It’s not about the quantity of personal relationships that one may have, it’s about the quality of those relationships. Mending friendships, rekindling romance, and dissolving grudges are just as important forms of self care as hygiene or fitness. People are lonely creatures. It’s possible to feel lonely in a city of millions or lonely in a room filled with family. Loneliness is the largest, life-draining emotion a person can have. That’s why maintaining healthy relationships is important.
Psychiatry professor and current director of the Harvard study, Robert Waldinger, goes into depth in his Ted Talk, explaining the importance of quality relationships, its correlation to life’s longevity, and how even an unhappy relationship could be worse than not having one at all. Mental health has a direct correlation with physical health. There are many scientific studies that illustrate how poor mental health can affect blood pressure, mental deterioration, and an increased risk of cancer.
The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) has categorized mental illness into two. Any mental illness (AMI) is “defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder, [ranging from] mild, moderate, and even severe impairment.” This means that AMI could be how a person compartmentalizes things or how they may negatively treat others due to their own pain. Serious mental illness (SMI) “is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment.”
The overall data concludes that 18.9% or an estimated 46.6 million US adults over 18 had prevalence of AMI. That’s a lot of people who are suffering from something. Even if it’s not serious or need of medical treatment, there are millions who are in a similar situation of loneliness and disconnect.
Connecting the statistics from NIMH and results from Harvard’s Study of Adult Development, it’s apparent that the seemingly obvious notion of maintaining relationships for health, happiness, and self care has gone unnoticed by many. Indeed, there are mental issues that need to be consulted with a professional. Some, however, can be resolved with self-awareness and essentially, love.
It’s never too late to practice self-care. In addition to doctor’s recommendations to eating healthier and exercising more, working on maintaining the spark in marital relationships can reduce the affects from the pains of aging. There are also those who believe that their life expectancy is based on family generations before them. According to Harvard’s study, “the role of genetics and long-lived ancestors proved less important to longevity than the level of satisfaction with relationships in midlife, now recognized as a good predictor of healthy aging.”
There are some mental and physical conditions that are unpreventable, and the effects of one’s previous experiences can impact a person’s life for decades. Rather than being a statistic, there are ways to alter the outcome of your situation. If it’s one thing that science and belief has proven to be true is that love for yourself and those in your positive relationships will bring with it, good health.
Unconditional, pure, and good love within romance, friendship, and family will lead a longer, happier life. So when you’re feeling depressed, or out of control of your thoughts and emotions, take a moment and do something new with someone you love, reconnect with a friend or family member. Create and nurture positive relationships because the key to a rich life is love.