Relationships are the Key to Mental Health and a Long Life

In 1938, Harvard University researchers began tracking the health of 268 sophomores in a study that would extend through their entire lives. The purpose: to determine if there were key psychosocial predictors of healthy aging and happiness through life.

The Grant Study, and the subsequent Glueck study tracked participants’ as they graduated into careers, to marriages, children, divorces and other milestones, through medical records, in-person interviews and questionnaires.

More than any other factor, including pre-existing health conditions, IQ or wealth, satisfaction with one’s close relationships was the best predictor of a long and happy life. Closely linked was marital satisfaction, which had a “protective effect” on the participant’s mental health.

Not surprisingly, the study also found that those who lived longest avoided smoking or excessive alcohol consumption. While the physical dangers of cigarettes and alcohol use are well known, less acknowledged are their correlations with mental illness.

Scientific American recently reported that while overall smoking rates have dropped from 42 per cent in 1965 to 15 per cent in 2015, those suffering from mental illness or substance use disorders accounted for “nearly 40 per cent of cigarette consumption by US adults in 2009 and 2011”.

For Robert Waldinger, current director of Harvard’s longitudinal study puts it, loneliness kills, and it’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.

For many, the answer is simple: continue to work to maintain good relationships with friends, family and colleagues throughout your life to help achieve a happy and long life.

For those feeling isolated and lonely – it’s not too late to nurture new relationships and to watch them flourish. Harvard also recommends exploring community social activities as a way to meet new people. Whether it’s volunteering or joining a sport’s team, new friends and better health could be just around the corner. It’s not just your health either – reaching out to someone might just help improve their quality of life as well.

And according to researchers from Northwestern University and the University of California, having different friends to help with specific moods can lead to greater well-being and life satisfaction. So treat life like a garden, nurture your relationships and help them grow and while you’re at it, cultivate many different friends for all of life’s moments. Can you dig it?

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