What is the Key to a Long, Healthy and Happy Life? Search the internet with this question and you will find a wide variety of answers. But very few of them are based on any scientific research evidence.
What the science says
The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the world’s longest studies on adult life. The results are not what you might expect. Most people suggest that genetics and diet are important. That is true. But, they are both trumped by the effect of healthy relationships. How satisfied we feel with our relationships has the most powerful impact on our long term health.
In fact, the quality of relationships with family and friends was a better predictor of physical health at age 50 than cholesterol levels. The power of great close relationships even beat the impact of financial fortune, fame and social class.
“Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”Robert Waldinger, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the study.
According to this study then, social isolation and the loneliness that follows is pretty dangerous. Those with good quality social support even showed less mental deterioration with age. So positive relationships protects our bodies and our brains. They help us live longer, live healthier, and live happier.
“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism”Robert Waldinger, Professor of Psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and Director of the study.
Nobody is immune to this. We all have the natural human need to belong, to connect with others who value and care for us. In my work as a psychologist I am yet to see a case of trauma, anxiety or depression that does not have some form of disconnection at the core. Looking at the unhealthy patterns people act out in their relationships is often an important part of therapy.
“Bees need a hive, people need a tribe “Johann Hari
So what now?
The great news is that unhealthy and unsatisfying relationships can be made better. I will be talking about how in upcoming posts. The first step is always awareness. You cannot change something if you are not willing to look at it. If you think your relationship with yourself or someone else could do with some improvement, then start by keeping a journal about it. Over time you begin to notice patterns of behaviour. Some of those patterns may have a positive effect on the relationship, others damaging. Once you begin to notice the patterns, then you have something to work from. More blogs coming soon on the types of patterns that come up and how to build great relationships.