This 80-year-old Harvard study revealed the one biggest secret to living a successful and happy life

16th Dec 2017
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The study conducted on 724 men over a period of almost 80 years will reveal the secret you need to succeed in 2018 and beyond.

With our society moving forward towards a completely unprecedented "intelligent age", our daily lives are becoming a completely new animal in itself, a very complex one.

A recent survey on the aspirations of millennials revealed that 80 percent of them wanted to be rich and another 50 percent of them wanted to be famous.

These kind of results are not surprising for a society which is continuously pushing us to try harder and faster, pushing limits to achieve "success". In this cutthroat competition, life is dictated as a collection of inputs, outputs and results, surmounted by application of technological and aspirational thirst. But well, does all this progress and desire for gold equate to a good life?

Well, no, if that was the case, we will not be having such record cases of depression, substance abuse, and suicide rates. Clearly, something is wrong. Something we need to fix. But to fix something, firstly we need to ask ourselves the most important question.

What does it actually take to live a good life?

Well, that is what researchers at Harvard asked almost 80 years ago, and the result is one of the longest-running sociological studies in history.

After tracking and collecting data from 724 men across eight decades, it all boiled down to one simple thing - about life - people seek close relationships to be happy. They need strong social bonds in the workplace and personal life to protect them from challenges of life whilst improving mental and physical health.

Here is how the research was set up by the Harvard Study for Adult Development. People were divided into two groups, the first group consisted of students of Harvard College, sophomores who went to finish college and then went on to fight World War 2. The other was a group of boys from a poor neighbourhood of Boston. They were chosen because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families, most living without basic necessities of life.

The study started when both the groups were a set of teenagers. The researchers went to their homes, interviewed their parents, to continuing to follow the two groups as they grew up. Some grew up to climb the biggest social ladders of life and some fell down brutally with alcoholism and depression. The research continued with a holistic study on their lives, videotaping them in their living rooms, talking to their wives, interacting with their doctors, studying their brain scans and every other thing surrounding their life.

So what was the biggest lesson they learned from this 80-year old landmark study, involving years of data sets, tapes, interviews and analysis?

Here it is - Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.

After all of the research, it all came down to relationships. Here are the three big lessons they learned about it.

1) People who are socially connected tend to live longer

Social Connections are really good for us. People who are more socially connected with their family and friends are happier, healthier and tend to live a longer life. On the other hand, loneliness kills. The experience of loneliness can be very toxic. People who are more isolated than others find themselves more unhappy and their brain functions decline earlier in life than people who are not lonely.

2) It is the quality of relationship that matters

Love-Sex

It is not the number of friends you have, nor is it about being in a committed relationship. On the contrary, it is the quality of your close relationships that matter. Loneliness can be experienced amidst a crowd too if you do not feel any warmth amongst your companions. High conflict relationships are very toxic to our health, even worse than divorce, compared to living in warm relationships which makes us feel protected and secure. Once the research followed the 2 groups all the way to their 80s, they wanted to look back at them at mid-life to see if they predict who will live as a happy healthy octagenarian. Surprisingly it was not their mid-life cholesterol level which predicted how they were going to grow old but how happy and satisfied they were in their relationships. People who were most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the happiest in their 80s. Great relationships somehow buffered these people from all the problems of getting old.

3) Good relationships are great for both body and brain

Good relationships do not just protect our bodies but also our brains. Being in a securely attached relationship in your 80s is protective. People who are in relationships where they can count on a partner have sharper brains compared to people who are not in a good relationship. These relationships need not be smooth all the time, but as long as they can count on their partner when the going gets tough, these arguments do not take a toll on memories.

Let us take action

Now, you might ask yourself this wisdom is a common knowledge and in fact very old, then why was it so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, the answer lies in we as humans wanting a quick fix which makes our lives good and keep it that way. Relationships are messy, not glamorous, and it's lifelong. But it is not so hard to maintain. In fact, the study says the people who fared the best and were the happiest in retirement were those who actively replaced workmates with new playmates. These were the people who leaned more towards relationships than a life of fame and fortune. They prioritized family moments, stronger bonds with peers more than the rat race of life. If you maintain such a life, you open the doors to a lifetime of content and happiness. So do not hold grudges in life and open yourself again.

Who are you going to call today?

(Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of YourStory.)

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Abhik Shome
Abhik Shome is a leading business consultant and a Marketing Technology thought leader in his space. As CEO of Brand Bridge Solutions, a digital marketing agency, Abhik is quoted regularly in mainstream media outlets. As a contributor to Inc.com and other news outlets,  Abhik is a leading advocate of entrepreneurship. Abhik is the Founder and Editor-in-Chief of The Starting Idea, a growth marketing magazine giving actionable strategies and tools for the modern day entrepreneur. Abhik is also the Senior Editor of Model UN.news, a press credentialed newswire out of the United Nations. Brand Bridge Solutions maintains office in New York City & New Delhi. Tweet to Abhik at @shomeabhik and @thestartingidea

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