What Keeps us Healthy and Happy As We Go Through Life. An 80-Years Harvard Study

What Keeps us Healthy and Happy As We Go Through Life. An 80-Years Harvard Study

Here comes an important question for life: If you were going to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?

Some answer: “getting rich”.

Others answer: “becoming famous”.

What is your answer?

Here Comes a Scientific Answer

It is the longest study of adult life that’s ever been done. Harvard university has tracked the lives of 724 men, Since 1938, asking year after year about their work, their home lives, and their health.

In 2015, about 60 of these original 724 men were still alive, most of them in their 90s.

What I found interesting is that Harvard started this study with two very different groups of men. The first group were Harvard students. And the second group were boys from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods, from troubled families.

If that is not an interesting starting point!

Over 75 years of the study, some became factory workers and lawyers and bricklayers and doctors, one became even President of the United States. Some become very ill. Some went the social ladder up, and some went in the opposite direction.

Have I now made you curious?

If yes, then please watch this TED talk. It is only 12 minutes long.

This is the conclusion of the scientific director of this study:

We’ve learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community, are happier, they’re physically healthier, and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely.

Once we had followed our men all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at midlife and to see if we could predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. And when we gathered together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. And good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women reported, in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their mood stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain.

And the third big lesson that we learned about relationships and our health is that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective, that the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay sharper longer. And the people in relationships where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of our octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out, but as long as they felt that they could really count on the other when the going got tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories.

Call to Action

Good and close relationships are good for our health and well-being.

And that comes almost for free, you don´t need to be rich to have that.

Do one or more of the following:

  • call your kids and tell them that you love them
  • reach out to that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years
  • send emails to all those people against whom who hold a grudge
  • do something new with your partner

This is where you can safely invest in your future best self. Put your time and your energy there.


Martin “Age Fine” Schweiger

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