Researchers at Harvard have been attempting to learn key life lessons from an 80 year old happiness study. Starting in 1938 during the Great Depression, scientists have been trying to hack the happiness code. Here’s what they discovered.

Unlocking the Happiness Habit

We know what to do to keep ourselves physically fit. Wellness has been on the agenda long enough for us to identify good habits vs bad habits. But what of our internal lives?We can get so caught up in striving for more, whether it’s status or wealth that we frequently miss the key ingredients for happiness. Contentment and longevity, it seems, are not wrapped up in ‘stuff’.

It’s difficult to imagine now the expectations of the scientists in the 1930s. Today we look at  health and wellness through a very different lens. The last twenty years has produced a wealth of data from positive psychology, neuroscience and life sciences. The Harvard results, though, may surprise you.

Relationships, relationships, relationships

The researchers found that satisfaction with relationships in midlife turned out to be a predictor of healthy aging and longevity. Hooray for positive relationships, being part of a community and feeling happy with those around you.

“When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
— George Vaillant
This data was echoed by more recent studies.

Mood Hoovers. Bad for your day. Bad for your health

Other longitudinal studies such as the Whitehall II Study, now running for over 30 years unearthed the importance of relationships. The Whitehall II dataset showed that low levels of conflict and excessive demands in close relationships may be protective against ill health, particularly in men. The opposite was true of toxic relationships. It wasn’t just that those in negative close relationships experienced lower mood and physical illness. The data highlighted something much more concerning. Those in toxic relationships were more likely to experience cardiac ill health, including cardiac arrest and death. Serious stuff.

The Message?

Don’t be afraid to clean up your relationships. Your health may be at risk if you don’t. Often we’re socialised to believe that it’s selfish or unkind to leave negative relationships behind. The truth is, compassion and empathy start with you.
It serves no one to diminish yourself so that someone else feels more comfortable. As Marianne Williamson said;
“It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine as children do.” 

Toxicity Checklist

Wondering if your relationships are toxic? Whether it’s friends, family or close partners, ask yourself if;
  • You always feel depleted or drained around them.
  • Often you play down your achievements so that you don’t upset them.
  • You find yourself walking on eggshells for fear of turning yourself into their latest target.
  • You’re always the one giving.
  • They don’t listen to you.
  • You dread any interaction with them.

If you recognise some of your relationships, think about how you can start to change that dynamic. Are you able to limit the time you spend around that person? Is it time to have an honest conversation? Is the most honest thing you can do to end the relationships now? It could be time to move on and create more positive relationships in your life. Your health may depend upon it.

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