I just finished reading my AARP magazine - it is one of the benefits of growing older - and found an interesting article titled, "What Makes a Good Life." It summarized the work of Harvard researcher, Robert Waldinger, M.D., the director of Harvard Study of Adult Development. His entity has been tracking the lives of men for 80 years to find the keys to a more successful life!
Their research is showing that what makes people healthy and happy is both surprising and simple. They are discovering that the best predictor of your future health and happiness is found in the quality of your relationships at age 50. They have also found that although alcohol and smoking are the top health threats, loneliness and social isolation ranks nearly as high.
This simple, yet elegant finding that our social capital as we age is key to a better life is, in a way, good news. If we could focus attention on the ways and means to building stronger relationships we can have greater control over the quality of our lives. Waldinger goes on to suggest:
* You don't have to have a ton of friends or be a social animal. You just need to have some close relationships. It is quality, not necessarily quantity.
* A key indicator to determine a quality relartionship would be to answer the following question: "Who would you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or scared?"
* If you have a conversation about something you are worried about, your body literally calms down. These relationships and conversations can lower you blood pressure and stress hormones.
* Negative childhood experiences can have an impact on the quality of relationships, but are not always fully damaging to building social capital. People can and do adjust over time.
Overall, research has shown that over 2/3's of the maladies that can harm us are ones that we self-inflict by our lifestyle and choices that we make. Still, the work being done at Harvard, and other think-tanks are promising in that if we work on building social capital and developing important, quality relationships, we can find that illusive path to happiness.