Starting in 1938, the Harvard Department of Psychiatry initiated the Grant Study in order to uncover the key to happiness and healthy longevity by tracking the lives of 724 men for 75 years. Participants shared their social histories, answered written surveys every other year, participated in face-to-face interviews every fifteen years, and completed physical examinations every five years along with brain scans, video interviews and more.
The participants included 268 sophomores from Harvard College and 456 teenage boys from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston’s inner city. They were interviewed about their school, work and home lives. Some would go on to become bricklayers, lawyers, schizophrenics and alcoholics; one even went on to become President of the United States, John F. Kennedy.
So what did the researchers find? Robert Waldinger, the fourth-generation director of the study, recently shared their findings in a TEDx talk: good relationships keep us happier and healthier. We have long known that being social is correlated with elated moods and longer lifespan. Both our Cognitive Therapeutics Method™, an in-home activities program to promote brain health, and our Balanced Care Method™, a holistic approach to healthy aging, promote socialization along with a healthy diet, exercise, mentally-engaging activities and a sense of calm for healthy longevity.
Waldinger expands on the study’s findings with these 3 lessons when it comes to relationships:
- The more socially connected, the better. The happiest, healthiest and longest-living individuals were more socially connected to friends, family and their community. The drawbacks to loneliness are “toxic” in Waldinger’s words; social isolation and feelings of loneliness can cause more rapid cognitive decline and decreased longevity. We offer 4 socialization tips in our blog “Staying Social in Your 60’s and Beyond”, but it is important to remember that there are always benefits to the companionship of dogs or care companions that a reputable home care agency can provide on a daily or weekly basis.
- Quality over quantity. Waldinger stresses that it is not simply the number of friends that an individual has, or even the fact that he or she is in a committed relationship–it’s the quality of the relationship that is the biggest determinant of happiness. They also found that good health at age 80 could be predicted by the strong, positive relationships individuals had at age 50, as opposed to their physical health in mid-years.
- Good relationships protect our brains. In relationships where the individuals felt that they could count on their partners, their memories stayed sharper longer. Even if relationships weren’t always perfect, these brain-health benefits were evident so long as they felt their partner was reliable.
After decades-long research, 60 of the participants are still being studied and are all now in their nineties. The study is now beginning to follow over 2,000 children of the original 724 participants. As this impressive study continues to grow, Robert Waldinger manages a blog and answers questions at www.RobertWaldinger.com.
Learn more about the study by watching the full video of Robert Waldinger’s TEDxBeacon talk below: