How to improve your relationships and live a happier life

Category: News

In 1938 scientists at Harvard University launched a long-term study tracking the health and happiness of 268 members of a sophomore class throughout their lives.

The research produced plenty of insights into the human condition, but perhaps the most important was that close relationships — more than money or fame — are the key to happiness in life.

In the pursuit of financial goals and workplace progression, relationships can occasionally be neglected, yet are vital to stability in life. Strong relationships support you through the hard times and revel with you during the good. So, taking the time to learn ways to strengthen your existing ones could be a simple way to boost your emotional wellbeing.

Read on to learn more about the Harvard study and what it might teach you about improving your relationships and living a happier life.

Studies suggest that relationships are better predictors of a long and healthy life than social class, IQ, or even genes

When Harvard scientists first began the ‘Harvard Study of Adult Development’, they had hoped it would eventually produce clues to how to live a long and happy life.

The majority of the study’s original participants have since passed away, although a few remain alive and in their late 90s. Original members included President John F. Kennedy and long-time Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee.

Over the years the study expanded to include:

  • The children and wives of the original participants
  • Participants from different social classes, including 456 Boston inner-city residents.

Robert Waldinger, the current director of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, said of the research: “The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health.

“Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation”.

The study showed that strong and close relationships were better indicators of a long, healthy, and happy life than money, fame, social background, intelligence, and genetics. Close relationships were even shown to delay mental and physical decline in old age.

Some key takeaways from the study include:

  • Satisfaction with relationships at age 50 could be a better predictor of future physical health than cholesterol levels
  • Those who were happiest in their 50s were often healthiest in their 80s
  • Loneliness is a killer and could be more detrimental to long-term health than smoking or alcohol
  • People’s health trajectories start to differ from their 30s onwards, so taking steps early in life could help boost future outcomes.

When asked what lessons he’s taken away from his time overseeing the study, Waldinger said: “It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time. So, I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to”.

4 simple suggestions from Waldinger’s research to help improve your relationships and overall happiness

1. Be generous with your time and money

Relationships are two-way streets. It is important to nurture them by gifting your time and money.

The old adage goes: “You get what you give”. You could sit back and think “but what about me?”, waiting for others to take the first step. But a more proactive approach might be more productive.

Research has shown that generosity is an upward spiral, boosting positive feelings in the brain, and directly benefiting the lives of those you care about the most. It can also increase your sense of self-worth and improve how others view you.

2. Pay attention and take an active interest in the lives of others

Curiosity may have killed the cat, but according to research, it rarely kills a relationship. Actively paying attention to others and taking an active interest in their lives can help foster strong, long-lasting connections.

Adopting a curious approach to conversations can help you unlock knowledge about the lives and interests of others. It can help them feel more understood and accepted. It could allow you to become more present in their lives and, vice versa, have them take a greater interest in your own.

3. Take a positive and reassuring approach to the way you communicate

Listening is a difficult art to master. It is easy to hear someone, but not necessarily to understand them.

Taking the time to patiently listen to the problems or issues of others — and put yourself in their shoes — can help you reassure them. If the way you communicate allows them to feel understood, it might make them feel seen, and help you develop a trusting relationship with them.

4.Regularly check in with your relationships

It is easy to lose track of time and in doing so, forget how long it’s been since you’ve checked in on one of your relationships. It is important that you don’t allow the passage of time to create distance.

Scheduling regular check-ins with people — even if it’s a text, email, or short call — can help maintain bonds.

You should also take a long-term outlook on your schedule, ensuring that you make enough time throughout the year to spend time with your friends and loved ones. It could be the move that leads to a longer, happier life.