A long-running Harvard study shows importance of human relationships to health and longevity.
Some of the best research evidence comes from these types of longitudinal studies where researchers follow a population group for many years. After all, for a real “anti-aging” study, you have to follow people for a lifetime, literally. That’s one reason we follow research in well-known animal models, where scientists can follow results for the lifetime of the animal to get clues. But such studies are rare in humans.
The famous “Grant and Glueck” study at Harvard University is the rare exception. For more than 75 years now, several generations of Harvard researchers have tracked the physical health and well-being of two populations. The Grant arm of the study involves 268 men who graduated from Harvard classes of 1939 to 1944. The Glueck arm of the study follows a cohort of 456 men of lower socio-economic status who grew up and lived in Boston from 1939 to 2014.
Throughout this longitudinal study, Harvard researchers collected and measured blood samples, reviewed surveys on self-reported data, and observed actual interactions with these men. They also performed brain scans, once that technology eventually became available. Today — the research continues. Harvard researchers are now studying the children of the original participants.
One salient finding from the study shows that good relationships keep people healthier and happier longer. Specifically, the study demonstrates that having someone to rely upon helps you relax and counter stress, which as you know is the major silent killer. It also reduces both emotional and physical pain. And it helps your brain stay healthier, longer.
On the other hand, loneliness carries a greater risk of suffering declines in physical health and earlier death.
The study went further in showing that it’s not just the number of friends. (Or today, the size of the Facebook friends list.) And it’s not just whether you are married.
It’s the quality of close relationships that matters.
Quality relationships offer more health benefits
We measure quality relationships by gauging how much depth and vulnerability exists, how safe you feel sharing, and the extent to which you can really relax and reveal who you truly are — “warts and all.”
Dr. George Valiant, who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, described the two key elements to a quality relationship: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
A loving relationship helps us cope with emotions and stress, like losing a job, losing a parent, or losing a child.
No doubt, relationships are messy and can be complicated. But being thankful for what you do have in life — no matter how messy — can benefit your well-being.
Gratitude releases “feel good” neurotransmitters
According to neuroscience, expressing gratitude releases dopamine neurotransmitter — a “feel good” neurochemical — in the brain.
Feeling appreciated is also key. The founder of modern psychology, William James (also of Harvard) wrote, “the deepest craving of human nature is the need to be appreciated.”
So — do something to show your appreciation to a loved one this weekend. And make sure to take note when those you love share their appreciation for you.
“This 75-year Harvard Study found the 1 secret to leading a fulfilling life,” Inc. (www.inc.com) (2/27/2017)
“This incredibly simple change will make employees much happier in their jobs,” Inc. (www.inc.com) 1/30/2017