Lately, NPR has been touting the works of Robert Waldinger, who leads the Harvard Study of Adult Development. This is one of the longest-running studies of adult life ever conducted. They have been following hundreds of people since 1938 and have come to a very interesting, and surprisingly simple indicator of what makes people healthy and happy.
I’ll let that sit for a minute and tell you about a class I took online (during those dreary COVID days) led by Yale professor Laurie Santos. It is called the Science of Happiness. Lauri and her team of crack graduate students engaged in several studies to determine what made people happy. Surprise, surprise, it wasn’t a new Tesla. She determined that shared experiences topped the list of eagerly anticipated, totally enjoyable, and long-lasting good feelings.
Robert Waldinger came to much the same conclusion with a slight twist. Over the long term, the happiest and healthiest people were those with healthy relationships with others. It could be friends, family, grocery clerks, baristas, neighbors, or anyone you interact with on a regular basis.
And now the question why would this make you healthier? The answer is stress. Stress can keep you out of trouble by pointing out danger. But after that, you need to return to your happy baseline. It turns out that a good relationship with someone who can help you return to your baseline is a great stress reliever. Continual, chronic stress is debilitating. Physically, it changes your body chemistry, erodes cells, contributes to diabetes and heart disease, (Did I mention ulcers?), and emerges as any number of unwanted medical manifestations.
People with healthy relationships develop fewer medical problems and recover more quickly from disease and operations.
I’ve been promoting Tai Chi as a way to eliminate stress and reap the bounty of a stress-free life. It only makes sense to augment this lifestyle with good, healthy, and robust relationships.
Robert Waldinger points out that like a healthy lifestyle, healthy relationships take continual practice. Unattended relationships will wither just like unattended muscles will atrophy. The good news is that the things that deepen relationships and keep them fresh turn out fun. Look for things that you and your relationship partner(s) find interesting and go do it! Whether it is birdwatching, a concert, a good dinner, a walk, or practicing Tai Chi. And vary your experiences by seeking out new things to try.
I’ll finish up with a short story (You can take a seat now). Lately, I have begun posting public videos on YouTube. This is a two-edged sword. On the one hand, it gets more exposure, often with good feedback. One recent comment (translated from French) was: “Great session, even if I’m still a little bit confused.”
On the other hand, posting publicly opens you up to criticism. I recently received criticism that raised my stress levels. Luckily, my crack assistant, Sandy, reminded me that I needed to shed this like water off a duck’s back. Instant stress relief and a return to (well almost) normal. Thank you, Sandy!
Here is the link to Robert Waldinger’s TED talk: https://www.ted.com/talks/robert_waldinger_the_secret_to_a_happy_life_lessons_from_8_decades_of_research?