Looking For Happiness? Call Your Friends!
By Shelly Russell, Shalom Austin Jewish Family Service Therapist
What is the secret to happiness? Is it fame, fortune or could it be something else? Harvard’s 80-year historic study reveals the key. Research began in 1938 and this fascinating study followed the physical and emotional health of 724 people in two diverse groups.
One group was from Boston’s poorest neighborhoods and the other group were graduates from Harvard. Women were not included in the original study because the College only accepted men at that time. Among the original recruits were eventual President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. The study began when the subjects were teenagers and followed them into their eighties. The study involved annual questionnaires, conversations with the subjects and their families, blood draws, brain scans and medical records reviews.
Dr. Robert Waldiner, a Harvard professor and the fourth director to lead this study, reports that one overwhelming conclusion is that “Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period”. The study indicated that close relationships, more than fame, achievement, or money, are what keep people happy throughout their lives.
The 3 main findings in this study show:
1. More socially connected people are happier, healthier, and live longer than people who are less connected. It also revealed that isolation is toxic. The people who were more isolated were less healthy in midlife and showed their brain functioning declining sooner than those that were not lonely.
2. It is the quality of our relationships that matters, not the quantity. Relationships take effort, work and understanding and being in a warm relationship is protective as we age.
3. Strong relationships protect the brain. When you are in a relationship where you can count on another person, your memory stays sharper longer.
COVID has increased isolation and anxiety for many of us over the last two years. Many people feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and lonely. So what can we do to increase connection and happiness? Here are a few ideas to consider:
- Relationships need to be nurtured. Call, text or email someone you have lost contact with over these last few months/years.
- Create new activities for you and your partner.
- Dissolve a grudge with a family member.
- Start or join a book club.
- Contact a neighbor who lives alone and have a cup of coffee on the porch.
- Turn off devices and have a conversation with a person. Ask questions, be curious, and show an interest in others.
- Volunteering in the community helps others, provides a sense of purpose, and improves mood.
- Perform regular acts of kindness for other people in your life.
- Revisit that hobby, game, or sport that gave you joy when you were younger and give it another try.
- Take a walk-in nature or go to the JCC and walk around the track with a family member or a friend.
- Have compassion and grace for yourself and others, and remember most people are doing the best they can.
- Be grateful and appreciate small daily pleasures and celebrate the little milestones.
- Make relationships a priority in your life and be intentional about spending time with people you care about.
- Consider joining one of the many exciting programs at Shalom Austin that include fitness, learning and social events.
Please know that Jewish Family Service is here for you and your family. If you would like to talk to a therapist, case manager or volunteer with us please contact us at shalomaustin.org/jfs or call us at 512-250-1043.
If you would like more information about the Harvard Study, click here. (Robert Waldinger: What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness.)
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