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Why You Should Invest More In Relationships


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As Robert Waldinger asked in his recent TED talk on the study, “If you were to invest now in your future best self, where would you put your time and your energy?”

The only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people. (tweet)

During the Great Depression, researchers at Harvard started following the lives of 724 men. Many were students at Harvard College, and many others came from the poorest families in Boston during the 1930s. These men filled out annual questionnaires, allowed researchers access to their medical records, and even let researchers videotape them talking to their wives about their deepest fears. They kept participating, year after year, as they grew up, went off to war, got married, had kids and grandkids, retired and passed away. Of the original 724, 60 are still alive today, most of them in their 90s and still participating in the study. The Harvard Study of Adult Development is one of the longest, most thorough studies ever conducted of its kind, and it’s literally a treasure trove of data on what makes for a meaningful and happy life.

So what are the lessons learned from studying these men’s lives for the past 75 years?

Focus on Relationships.

When the study’s longtime director, George Vaillant, was asked what he had learned from the study after so many decades, he responded, “That the only thing that really matters in life are your relationships to other people.”

The data suggests that strong social connections- to family, friends, and community- result in people living longer, more satisfying lives. Some participants in the study even had good physical health, successful careers, and plenty of money, but were still ultimately unhappy without quality human connection. Strong relationships were truly the key to life satisfaction.

And, not surprisingly, a lack of social connections tended to have disastrous consequences.

“The experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic,” says Robert Waldinger, the study’s current director. “People who are more isolated than they want to be 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.”

Watch a TED talk on the study