It has taken nearly 80 years and a variety of research studies to come up with the end result: a good genetic makeup and wealth really have very little to do with our amount of joy. The Harvard Study of Adult Development started in 1938, looking into the lives of such high-profile participants as John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee. Over the years, it’s been expanded to add inner-city residents as well as offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the results were surprising, to say the least.
The results from the study established that the most effective predictors of a happy and long life were not genetics, IQ, finances, fame, or social class but quite simply close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the research study and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, shares, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Psychiatrist George Vaillant who spearheaded the research between 1972 - 2004, shared in his book "Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development," the factors that forecast healthy aging:
The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
Mature mechanisms in place to manage difficulties in life
Maintaining a healthy weight
Having a stable marriage
In a nutshell, self-care is essential to our level of joy – from the perspective of both mental and physical health – and committing effort to making your relationships the best they can be most definitely falls under that umbrella as well. As a matter of fact, subsequent studies have revealed that the satisfaction level people experience in their relationships is a much more accurate determinant of what their physical health is likely to be later in life than physical factors like cholesterol levels.
The study also upended previous understanding that our personalities are carved in stone by age 30. Many who struggled in their early adult years enjoyed happier later years, while others succeeded at the beginning of life but ran into challenges in later years as a result of mental health issues and alcoholism.
The study continues on today into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to understand, including just how to better manage stress and whether a difficult childhood can impact middle age and later years.
Let The Care Company’s highly-trained at home caregivers in Toronto and nearby areas help instill joy in an older adult's life; reach out to us today! Our caregivers serve as cheerful companions to take part in conversations, exercise, and meaningful activities together, cultivating socialization and additional relational connections. You can reach us 24/7 online or at (416) 422-2273 to schedule a free of charge in-home assessment to find out more information.