People can cause you so much pain and heartache that sometimes you might wonder whether you’d be better off quitting relationships altogether and just going it alone. After all, you could focus on your career, pets, or hobbies to give you a sense of happiness and fulfillment. Although relationships are touted as being essential to a good life, you may wonder whether they are really all that important. The answer is, undeniably, yes.
Although research about relationships is ongoing, the importance of relationships has been clearly established. Researchers at Harvard University have been tracking people since 1938, as part of the Harvard Study of Adult Development. It began looking at 268 sophomores, eventually added 1,300 of their children who are now in their 50s and 60s; and several hundred more from other studies. The researchers have looked closely at the health of the subjects’ lives in both their careers and marriages.
They have found that relationships are not just important, but they trump most other factors in how much they influence on our health. More than financial riches, career success, or fame, relationships make people happy throughout their lives. Those with strong, healthy relationships also tend to stay mentally sharper and physically stronger as they age. Whatever your social class, financial success, IQ, or even genetic makeup, it is your social connections that are most strongly associated with a long, happy life. As Dr. George Vaillant, one of the leaders of the Harvard study, said, “…the key to healthy aging is relationships, relationships, relationships.”
While you may already know that making yourself happy can improve your well-being, a study in 2016 showed your partner’s happiness has a strong impact on your health. One indirect way that this works may be that they are more likely to express warm and positive views of you when they are happy. In addition, another study showed that when your partner sees you as your ideal self, you begin to see yourself that way, too. Altogether, this means that attending to your loved ones’ health and happiness is not only an act of caring toward them, but it is beneficial to yourself as well.
The take-away from research is that not only are relationships important, but they help to keep you healthy physically and psychologically as you age. This does not mean that you need to have continuously blissful relations. Friends and partners have their ups and downs, sometimes expressing differences of opinion or arguing. But as long as you feel cared about and can rely on loved ones, you can enjoy the health benefits of your connections. So, if you want to enjoy a long, happy, and healthy life, it’s time to ask yourself, “What am I doing to nurture my relationships?”