What really makes a good life?
What makes a good life? What are the things that make us happy and keep us healthy? Is it wealth? Is it fame? Or is it achieving your goals in work life? If you consider those things being the keys to good and a happy life, I’m sorry to tell you, you are mistaken. That isn’t just based on my personal opinion it’s based on actual facts.
I watched an interesting TED talk video the other night and like many TED talks, the content of this one was no exception. It got my attention. The title of the video was “What makes a good life?”. According to a recent survey 80 percent of millennials said that their major life goal was to be rich and 50 percent of the same millennials said that their major life goal was also to be famous. So, if you were thinking like these millennials, know that it is very common and you’re not alone. That it’s a big problem in the western 21st century work-focused society.
The TED talk was about the oldest research ever committed about adult life. The research was over 75 years old in 2016 when the video was uploaded, and it was about “what really keeps the people happy and healthy” (Waldinger 2016). The research was conducted by Harvard University and 724 men from two different groups took part in it. The first group gathered of young men who just had started their studies in Harvard. They finished their studies during the second world war and most of them went to serve in the war after graduation. The second group of young men were specifically picked from the most troubled and disadvantaged families from the neighbourhoods of 1930’s Boston. In the beginning of the study these two groups of young men were interview and taken to medical exams while their parents were being interviewed. The study is still ongoing. Later it was discovered that the men who participated the study in the 1930’s were found working in a wide range of different fields. They became factory workers, lawyers, bricklayers, doctors and one of them even became the president of the United States. Some of them developed alcoholism and few developed schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder all the way from the bottom to the top and some made the same journey from the opposite direction. Every two years these men were interviewed, taken to medical exams, their brains were scanned, their children were interviewed, and they were videotaped talking to their wives about their deepest concerns. The research has generated tens of thousands of pages of solid and extensive information of their lives in general.
So, what is the answer to a good life based on this over 75-year-old study?
“Good relationships keep us happier and healthier, period” (Waldinger 2016). The researchers have learned three big lessons about relationships through this study.
People who are more socially connected to family, friends and community are happier, healthier and they live longer than people who are less connected. The experience of loneliness turns out to be bad for your health. People who are more isolated then they want to be, find out that they are less happy, their health starts to decline earlier in midlife, their brain function declines earlier and they live shorter lives then people who are not lonely.
It’s not just the number of friends you have or are you in a relationship. It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. High conflict marriages without much of affection turn out to be bad for our health, perhaps even more than getting divorced. Living in the midst of warm and good relationships is protective. ”The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80” (Waldinger 2016).
Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies they protect our brains. Its protective to be in a secure relationship in your 80s where you can count on the other person. Your memory stays sharper longer and the people who are in a relationship where the feel they can’t count on the other person, they experience early memory decline. It doesn’t matter if you have arguments with each other from time to time as long as you feel that you can really count on the other person, it will not take a toll on your memory.
Good relationships are good for us, is a old wisdom, but why is it hard to get and easily ignored? The answer is that we are human. We are always looking for that quick fix to make our lives better and to be happy. Relationships are not a quick fix, they are messy, complicated and a lot of hard work, they are a lifelong investment to your happiness and health. Remember the recent survey about millennials major life goals that we talked about in the beginning? Many of the young men thought the same way in 1938 and really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. “but over and over and over this 75-year-old study has shown that the people who faired the best were the people who leaned into relationships with family with friends with community” (Waldinger 2016). Why I’m telling you this? I want you to remember how important your relationships are for your happiness and health.
Waldinger, R. 2016. What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness. YouTube-video. Published 25.1.2016. Referred 28.11.2019.