It’s taken nearly 80 years and a slew of scientific studies to come up with the end result: wealth and a good genetic makeup really have little to do with our level of joy. The Harvard Study of Adult Development began in 1938, delving into the lives of such high-profile participants as John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee. Over the years, it’s been expanded to include inner-city residents as well as offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the results were surprising, to say the least.
It was determined that the best predictors of a long and happy life were not IQ, genetics, finances, fame, or social class but simply close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the study and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains, “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 led the study from 1972 until 2004, shared in his book Aging Well the factors that predict healthy aging:
- The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
- Physical activity
- Mature mechanisms in place to cope with difficulties in life
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Having a stable marriage
In a nutshell, self-care is crucial to our level of joy – from the perspective of both physical and mental health – and devoting effort to making your relationships the best they can be certainly falls under that umbrella as well. In fact, additional studies have revealed that the satisfaction level people experience in their relationships is an even better determinant of what their physical health will be later in life than physical factors such as cholesterol levels.
The study also overturned previous thinking that our personalities are set in stone by age 30. Many who struggled in their early adult years enjoyed happier later years, while others excelled early in life but fell apart later due to alcoholism and depression.
The study continues on today, into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to learn, including how to better manage stress and whether a difficult childhood can impact middle age and later years.
Let LightSpring Home Care’s caregivers help instill joy in a senior’s life; contact us today! Our caregivers serve as friendly companions to engage in conversations, exercise, and enjoyable activities together, fostering socialization and additional relational connections. You can reach us any time at (215) 935-6321 to schedule a free in-home consultation to learn more about how our Philadelphia in-home care and services in nearby areas help encourage healthy aging.