Who would you reach out to if you were going through a difficult time and needed someone? If you chose not to reach out, who may know that you’re struggling and how much would you be willing and able to share if they asked?
According to a 75-year study, at Harvard, those who have someone to rely on and help them relax, stay healthier longer and function better emotionally and physically. The findings included decades of blood samples, brain scans, self-reports, and interviews.
The Grant & Glueck study doesn’t necessarily tell us something new, but it emphasizes the impact of isolation and loneliness, while highlighting the importance of meaningful relationships, being seen, accepted, and the ability to be vulnerable in connection with others - as well as seeing one another for who we are.
Robert Waldinger, the director of the study, is quoted in the title of this blog. He says that the study proves that “it’s not how much is in your 401k, how many conferences you spoke at, or blog posts or followers… No, the biggest predictor of your happiness and fulfillment overall in life is, basically, love.”
The Harvard study was only done with men, of various socioeconomic backgrounds, from 1939-2014. A recent article in the Boston Globe, The Biggest Threat…, focuses on how social isolation and loneliness have serious effect on middle-aged men. It says men are usually more comfortable saying they are depressed opposed to being lonely. Historically, men usually take time to reach out when in need, if they reach out at all. The article also refers to a 35-year study, at Brigham Young University, also showing similar results with isolation and loneliness, in regard to health concerns and premature death for men and women.
I heard a father of a young adult sharing about the time he spent with his son when he was going through a significant crisis in his life. He said he always thought it was about the quality of time he spent with his son, but it turned out to be the quantity of time spent that really made a difference in getting to know one another, whether going out for a walk, having meals, watching tv together, or quietly being around one another.
These studies span cultural and generational influences, and continued to come up with the same result – a meaningful life is a result of the depth in our relationships – not money, status, or education level. For some of us, taking steps towards deepening our relationships can be the hardest part.