How to Maintain Health and Happiness in 2023

According to researchers at Harvard College, the strength of relationships with family, friends and partners is the most important predictor of a person’s long-term physical and mental health.

Since 1938, the Harvard Study of Adult Development (Harvard Study) has examined the lives of more than 700 participants and their families by gathering their health information and records every five years. Today, a new second generation study has been launched to include more than 1,200 descendants of the original participants and determine the effect of childhood experiences on midlife health.

Although many believe wealth, I.Q. or social class are key to personal happiness, the Harvard Study finds that nurturing and developing relationships is the strongest determinant of whether a person feels fulfilled. Overall, people who are more socially connected not only live longer, but suffer less from depression and cognitive decline.

Research also shows that loneliness, which has been exacerbated by the global pandemic, damages our physical health and life expectancy. This means it is vitally important for people to take steps in their everyday lives to invest in relationships with family, friends and community groups.

In a recent New York Times article focusing on wellness, two professors who helped direct the Harvard Study, Dr. Bob Waldinger and Dr. Marc Schulz, suggest that maintaining one’s social fitness is as important as staying physically healthy. Since relationships can atrophy just like muscles, they require ongoing care and attention.

How do you build your social bonds for more joy? As found in their new book entitled “The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness,” Dr. Waldinger and Dr. Schulz say a first step is to identify areas in your life where you would like to be more connected. It is especially important to remember that the quality of your relationships is more important than the quantity.

Second, even people who are shy or introverted can achieve happiness by engaging with others. This can take place in quieter, more intimate settings around activities that you enjoy – such as participating in a book club, taking an exercise class or working in a community garden.

Third, there is no age limit to building strong relationships. While older adults may assume it is too late to make new friends, there are many opportunities to connect with others later in life by taking part in group activities at a local school, community center or church.

To achieve health and happiness in the year ahead, it is important to remember that positive social interaction is just as important as exercising and maintaining a healthy diet. No matter what your age, connecting with others can help stimulate your mind, lower your stress level and raise your spirits.

To view a Ted Talk and news segment about the Harvard Study, please visit:
Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness | TED
What makes us happy and healthy? | CBS This morning


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