Spending time with people you love matters. Having good relationships keeps us happy and healthy, and having a sense of connection with others is vital for our wellbeing.
Various studies have been conducted over time to show truth in this.
One in particular is The Grant Study run in tandem with The Glueck Study. The Grant Study is a 75-year longitudinal study of 268 physically and mentally healthy Harvard college sophomores. The Glueck Study includes 456 disadvantaged non-delinquent inner-city youths who grew up in Boston neighbourhoods. All were men. Many who continue to be studied to this day.
The study involves doing questionnaires, medical checks and interviews at least every two years. They are also observed with how they interact with their spouses, and spouses often interviewed as well. The goal of the study is to identify predictors of healthy aging.
There are a number of main results of the study, which are summarised as:
- Alcoholism is a disorder of great destructive power.
- Financial success depends on warmth of relationships and, above a certain level, not on intelligence.
- Political mindedness correlates with intimacy: Aging liberals have more sex.
- The warmth of childhood relationship with mothers matters long into adulthood
- The warmth of childhood relationship with fathers correlated with lower rates of adult anxiety, greater enjoyment of vacations, and increased "life satisfaction" at age 75.
The main conclusion:
"Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on 'life satisfaction'".
Put differently, the study shows: "Happiness is love. Full stop."
– George Eman Vaillant
This doesn't mean to say that we need to have a lengthly list of friends to be healthy. Let's take Facebook - how many friends do any of us actually see face-to-face?
Like all good things in life it's quality over quantity that often makes us feel happier or more satisfied.
From what I've learned from various literature about the happiest cultures in the world (The Little Book of Lykke, The Blue Zones Of Happiness, The Village Effect), it's about having close connections with people. Individuals that we continue to see on a frequent basis for much of our lives give us a sense of meaning and purpose.
There is also truth that living with a partner can benefit our wellbeing and decrease feelings of loneliness. It could be the person we marry or a de facto relationship, or it could be living with a best friend. Those who feel they have love in their life often fair better in the long run.
We must remember, there is no perfect relationship. Most healthy relationships have their ups and downs, and challenging moments. That is normal. If on the other hand the bulk of our time with someone is emotionally destructive and causing great pain then that will not help our health. And sometimes parting ways is better for all those concerned.
But it's normal for couples to bicker, and often continues into those later years. If honesty, love, communication and respect are at the core then it can benefit our wellbeing tremendously.
We can help bring a sense of connectivity into our lives by thinking about who we would like to have in our circle. Those people we respect and respect us. Who don't judge or try to outdo us in relation to success or material possessions. Who listen with empathy and in turn we listen to. Who we trust.
And then we gather, often. Informally at one another's homes. Sitting around the living room sharing stories. Making it a weekly ritual to walk or ride together. Or gather for a casual meal on a weekend while the kids play together in the backyard.
For parents of children, having grandparents around can help tremendously. Not only to parents who need some time out, but for the wellbeing of children and grandparents as well. But let's face it, with cities becoming larger and spreading out many of us don't live so close to our parents anymore. So it's then that we look to our good friendships for support. And help our children develop relationships with adults other than ourselves.
Loneliness is destructive. And we all deserve love. Relationships matter. Togetherness matters. So think about those that matter most to you. Gather with them often. Show your children warmth and hug them tightly. In the end as we slip away, those moments shared together are most likely all we will think about.