Life is sweet at home

Harvard study proves relationships key to health, happiness

Marla and her mom share a special moment looking at photo albums.

I have been intrigued with “what makes a good life” for a long time – way before I got into the home care industry. I watched and helped my grandfather age. I noticed how the family rallied around him and his children took turns providing him a home and lots of TLC in his later years.

Even though it wasn’t easy, my mother and her siblings cherished their time caring for my grandfather because he was a kind and loving man who had built close relationship s with all his kids and grandkids. Ultimately, my time with my grandfather was the inspiration for me founding Andelcare. I had learned that caring for a beloved elder is much more than a duty – it is a privilege.

Long study finds relationships key

After 80 years a longitudinal study, started when John F. Kennedy was an undergraduate at Harvard, gives us proof of what happy people like my grandfather knew – the basis for a long, joyful life isn’t genes, money or status- it is relationships.

The original Grant Study followed 278 Harvard sophomores in 1938 through the rest of their lives. Only 19 are still living. However, the study has evolved with each science director tackling the issues of aging. These days the offspring of the original participants, their wives and children are now involved in the continuing study.

Socializing is good for us. Medfordseniorcenter.org

Director’s observations

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” said Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

“The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80,” said Waldinger, the fourth and current director.

Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives, the study revealed. Those ties protect people from life’s discontents, help to delay mental and physical decline, and are better predictors of long and happy lives than social class, IQ, or even genes. That finding proved true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants.

Loneliness kills

It is important NOT to isolate.

One of the study’s other directors, Psychiatrist George Vaillant, came to recognize the crucial role relationships played in people living long and pleasant lives.

“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment,” said Vaillant. “But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

However, after years of interviews and study, his team found six factors predicted healthy aging for the Harvard men: physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature mechanisms to cope with life’s ups and downs, and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage. For the inner-city men, education was an additional factor because it affected their awareness of stopping smoking, eating sensibly and moderate use of alcohol.

Future studies

In the future Waldinger hopes the team can look at the affects of childhood and how people manage stress. But for now, he shared that the 80-year-old study has inspired him to more than ever practice meditation every day and to invest time and energy into his relationships.