I think the question of how to live a fulfilled life is one that every human being at one time or another questions whilst growing older. There are many theories around this subject and studies around this subject matter, but none have reached the magnitude of the ongoing study by Harvard University.
I have taken a keen interest in TED talks for many years now, with Brene Brown‘s The Power of Vulnerability being a must watch for those of you who haven’t seen it, and the TED Talk by Robert Waldinger has also really taken the net by storm since it was first aired on December 2015.
He talks about one of the most comprehensive longitudinal studies in history performed by Harvard University, who have tracked the lives of 724 men year after year throughout their lives to discover the common factor which generates happiness. This is the first ever study of its kind.
The study began with two groups of men during world war two. One group started as sophomores from Harvard College, and the other a group of boys from Boston’s poorest neighbourhoods. The men have gone onto many professions form lawyers to bricklayers, and one even became President of the United States.
The study has been extremely in-depth including; intensive interviews, talks with their children and wives, medical examinations including brain scans, blood tests and of course questionnaires. The study has continued for over 75 years. Waldinger has himself admitted that “the founders of this study would never in their wildest dreams have imagined that I would be standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that the study still continues”.
So for the results, the most interesting bit. Well the outcome, in Waldinger’s words is that “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period”.
To brake it down further the three big lessons from the study are; firstly that social connection brings us health and loneliness kills us. Secondly it’s about quality not quantity when it comes to close relationships, so a truly strong relationship with someone is far better than many acquaintances. Finally the third lesson is that good relationships don’t just result in healthier bodies they also result in healthier minds.
Now I know we hear so many of these studies and it’s dangerous to get caught up with them all too much, but if you are to believe the experts, this is the most thorough study out there to date.
I’m certainly no psycho-analyst but what I do know is that when I look back at the times I was most happy, it is true that I was mostly always in the company of friends or family. After seeing many philosophers talk, especially on TED, I have come to realize that finding fulfilment is definitely about vulnerability, click here for Brene Brown’s talk, but Waldinger’s showed me it’s also about sharing that vulnerability with others.
“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that” – Mark Twain