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If You’re Happy and You Know It. . . You Likely Have Good Friends

The key to happiness (along with the location of the “Fountain of Youth”) has eluded humans since the beginning of time.

Some keys to happiness have now been uncovered as a result of one of the world’s largest longitudinal studies of people’s health and happiness. Launched by Harvard University in 1938, the study followed then-college sophomores into old age. With fewer than 20 of the original subjects still alive, the results were released in 2015.

The study subjects were in several groups. The first consisted of sophomore students at Harvard, who graduated during WWII. The second group consisted of boys from some of the poorest neighborhoods in Boston. Additional groups were added over the years, including some of the men’s spouses and children.

The study had three primary takeaways about the keys to happiness, as outlined below:

  1. The most consistent factor in the lives of happy and healthy people is forming and maintaining close relationships with others. People who have meaningful connections to family, friends and their community tend to be healthier, so they are likely to live longer than those who do not.
  2. The quality of relationships is much more important than the quantity. Having a few good, supportive, close friends is much better than having a plethora of acquaintances or shallow relationships. And relationships that are full of conflict are not healthy. Robert Waldinger, a psychiatrist and professor at Harvard Medical School told The Harvard Gazette, “Good, warm and close relationships…have the ability to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old.”
  3. Good relationships are good for your brain. In addition to being good for physical and emotional health, the study also shows that people with meaningful relationships tend to have sharper and longer memories.

To have positive and close relationships, the article suggests trading some screen time for “people time,” and working on existing relationships by trying a new activity. Something as simple as taking walks together can revitalize a relationship. Another suggestion is to contact a friend or a relative with whom you have lost touch: reconnecting with people from the past is often very emotionally rewarding.

Virginia Tech gerontologist Dr. Rosemary Blieszner provides advice about making new friends: “Be sure to take the time to get to know one other. Share some personal information gradually, as you get to know each other. Find activities you both enjoy, and be sure to let the other person know you’re interested in getting together again.”

Advancements in medicine and science are enabling people to live longer and longer. The key to making the most of our longer lives is learning how to be as emotionally, mentally, and physically healthy as possible during these bonus years.