It has taken nearly 80 years and a slew of research studies to determine the result: wealth and a good genetic makeup really have little to do with our level of joy. The Harvard Study of Adult Development launched in 1938, delving into the lives of high-profile participants such as John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee. Over the years, it has been expanded to incorporate inner-city residents along with offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the outcomes were surprising, to say the least.
It was determined that the most effective predictors of a long and happy life were not genetics, IQ, fame, finances, or social class but 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, 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 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 bottom line is, self-care is crucial to our level of joy – from the perspective of both mental and physical health – and investing time and effort to making your relationships the very best they can be certainly falls under that umbrella as well. As a matter of fact, subsequent studies have revealed that the satisfaction level individuals 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 such as cholesterol levels.
The research study also upended prior understanding that our personalities are carved in stone by age 30. Many people who encountered difficulties in their early adult years enjoyed fulfilling later years, while others excelled early in life but ran into challenges in later years because of mental health issues and alcoholism.
The study is ongoing, looking into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to learn, including how to better regulate stress and whether a hard childhood can impact middle age and later years.
If you’d like to learn more about how to help seniors experience a higher quality of life, turn to the award-winning provider of elder care in Windsor, Ontario and the surrounding areas. At Amy’s Helping Hands, our highly-trained caregivers are here to help instill joy in a senior’s life; reach out to us today! Our caregivers serve as friendly companions to take part in exercise, conversations, and pleasant activities together, fostering socialization and additional relational connections. We can be contacted any time at 519-915-4370 to schedule an in-home consultation to find out more information.