Think you’d feel happier if you were a little thinner, or a lot richer, or if you had a litter of puppies frolicking in your yard? Think again, a Harvard researcher advises.
Everyone is prone to believe that wealth, success and fame – and maybe puppies – will make them happier. In truth, strong, supportive relationships are the keys to a happy and healthy life.
Robert Waldinger, director of a 75-year Harvard Study of Adult Development, provides evidence to support his wisdom and shares three revelations about true happiness:
1. Social connections are crucial for a happy and healthy life
Loneliness is deadly. People who develop close relationships and have a wide circle of friends live longer and have a higher quality of life than those who feel isolated and lonely.
2. The quality of the relationship matters
People in supportive and loving relationships live longer than those in high-conflict relationships, even if the latter are monogamous or long-term. Furthermore, people in strong relationships are better able to handle emotional and physical pain.
3. People in supportive relationships experience less memory loss
When people feel they can count on their partners through life’s ups and downs, even if they may argue, their memories remain clearer into their elder years.
“Good, close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old.”
There is no “quick fix” for a good life, Waldinger reports in his TED talk. Nurturing relationships requires energy and commitment, but the study subjects who were happiest in old age were those who “leaned into relationships with family, with friends, with community.”
“Family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.”
So, make time for those you love, reach out to those who have drifted away from you – and don’t bother to harbor resentments about long-ago slights.
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Many other erudite scholars have pondered the question of how to achieve lasting happiness: Buddhist monk Mathieu Ricard advocates mind training in his TED talk; Martin E. P. Seligman, author of Authentic Happiness, says that helping others is key; Eric G. Wilson, author of Against Happiness, takes a different approach and embraces melancholy saying, “be blue – it’s good for you.”
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