Speaking to an elderly friend recently got me to thinking about the way we’re living our lives these days. My friend, who is close to 90, said she doesn’t understand the way things are today — that life used to be a lot simpler and much better when she was younger.
Intrigued by her keen insights, I asked her to explain a bit. Well, as it turns out, she doesn’t have cable, she doesn’t have the internet, she doesn’t have a cell phone, tablet or computer. “So how do you get your news?” I asked: “from the morning paper or on the radio,” she said. Hmm…so no 24/7 news cycle, no Facebook, instagram or Twitter for this lovely lady? How can she possibly manage to get through her days without posting selfies or tweeting about what she’s eating for lunch?
Well, she does manage, and she manages quite well…perhaps better than most people half her age.
I asked if she’s afraid of technology. “No!” was her firm reply. See, she once did have cable TV, a computer and the internet. She soon concluded however, that these “conveniences” were making things more bothersome and not any easier. The constant 24×7 dramatized news, vacuous TV shows, violent movies, scams in her email inbox — did she really need all that negativity beamed directly into her home?
This dear friend is smart, alert, physically active and socially engaged — she just does it all in real life and not through cyber-space. To her, life is meant to be lived the way it was before we became slaves to technology and her secret to happiness is good diet, some exercise, fun hobbies and solid, quality relationships. And in her humble opinion, these are the very things we are losing in our social-media obsessed world.
Well as it turns out, she’s right on all counts, but particularly about the good relationships part. For the past 75 years, Harvard University has been conducting the Grant and Glueck study. The study has been tracking the emotional and physical well-being of two distinct populations: The Grant Study, which is composed of 268 Harvard graduates from the classes of 1939-1944 and the Glueck Study, comprised of a group that is made up of 456 men who grew up in the inner-city neighborhoods of Boston.
This is a multi-generational, detailed and scientific study and the major conclusions may surprise you. So what is the conclusion of the Grant and Glueck study? According to The study’s current director, Robert Waldinger, one thing surpasses all the rest in terms of importance:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
Waldinger, outlined some of the more striking findings from the long-running project in a recent TED Talk, and are summarized below:
1. Close relationships
The men in both groups of the Harvard study who reported having a close bond with their family, friends, or community, tended to be happier and healthier than their less social counterparts. They also tended to live longer. However, by comparison, those in the study who said they were lonely or who lacked close relationships, reported being less happy in life and they also had worse physical and mental health.
2. Quality of relationships
It’s not just being in a relationship or how many “friends” you have that matters. For example, the study shows that Married couples who said they argued frequently and had “low affection” for one another (defined in the study as “high-conflict marriages”) were actually less happy than people who weren’t married at all. Thus, high-conflict relationships or superficial friendships, for example, are as bad as not having any relationships at all. So, it’s the quality of the relationship that matters.
“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters,” says Waldinger.
3. Stable, supportive marriages
Being socially connected to others isn’t just good for our physical health, it’s also vital to our mental health. The study concludes that people in stable, loving marriages helps stave off mental decline. People who were married without having divorced, separated, or having “serious problems” until age 50, performed better on memory tests later in life than those who weren’t, the Harvard study found.
So it seems that what my wise friend knows and believes is very true: it’s all about living our lives fully, being active, engaged and having deep, meaningful relationships.
Life is not about having wealth and power, or having 1,000 Facebook ‘friends” and 5,000 Twitter followers — it’s about loving, sharing, giving, helping and connecting with family, spouses and good friends on a truly meaningful level — and that is never, ever going to happen online, through the TV or from a video game. The only way to have genuinely deep relationships is to be involved, connected and committed.
Some keen insight from Study Director, Robert Waldinger:
“Society places a lot of emphasis on wealth and ‘leaning in’ to our work. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.”
“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
“Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies; they protect our brains. 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.”
Learn more about the Grant and Glueck study
Robert Waldinger, outlines some of the more striking findings from the long-running project in a recent TED Talk