How to have health and happiness in three lessons

Couple holding hands

Photo credit – Jenelle Ball via

Do you enjoy good health? Are you happy? If you were going to invest in yourself for the future, where would you put your time and energy?

A longitudinal Harvard study in adult development has found that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. That’s it!  Stop reading. You have the answer. No more research or analysis necessary?

Or, let’s learn a little more. There are lessons to learn about good relationships.

Connection Daryn BartlettLesson one: Social connections are really good for us.  Loneliness is toxic.

People who are more socially connected to friends, family and community are happier than those who are not. The experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more isolated are less happy. Their health declines, so does their brain functioning and their lives are shorter. 

Lesson two: Quality (not quantity) of relationships is the key.Loneliness Jeremy Cai

You can be lonely in a crowd, lonely in a marriage. You can have lots of friends but it is the quality and commitment in close relationships that matter. Living in good, warm relationships is protective. Close relationships form a sort of buffer against some of the challenges of getting old. The participants in the study who were happily partners indicated that on days that they experienced pain their mood stayed happy.

The research shows that conflict is bad for your health. Researchers suggest:

“High-conflict marriages, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health, perhaps worse than getting divorced”

People in unhappy relationships in the study reported that on days that they experienced physical pain, it was magnified by more emotional pain. 

Old couple walking hand in hand

Photo credit – Gerard Moonen via

Lesson three: Being in a securely attached relationship to another person is good for our brains in later years.

Good relationships protect our bodies and brains. Being in a securely attached relationship into your 80s is protective. These people who feel they can count on the person in the relationship, in times of need have memories that stay sharper for longer. By contrast, older people in relationships where they can’t counter on the other person, experience earlier memory decline. 

Now – they don’t mean to vanilla coat this. Couples may argue. Couples may bicker. But as long as they know they can count on each other, the memory impact is positive.

So what? You already knew those things were important – right?
The Harvard researchers suggest that the wisdom in these three lessons is age hold. But they ask – why is it [good relationships, good health and happiness] so hard to get? Well they say, we all want a quick fix.

Do we?

They also suggest that relationships are messy, complicated and hard work. Now you’re talking.

Tending to family and friends is not always easy, it’s not sexy nor glamorous and … it’s lifelong. That’s where the real commitment is.

Below are their practical suggestions. I think these apply to all relationships that are important to you.

  • Replace screen time with people time.
  • Liven up your relationship by doing something new together like taking a long walk or having a date night.
  • Reach out to a family member you haven’t spoken to in a while.

Do you have other suggestions? Please share them.

You can watch or read more about this research here:

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