It has taken nearly 80 years and a variety of scientific studies to produce the end result: a good genetic makeup and wealth really have little to do with our degree of joy or healthy aging, according to The Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study launched in 1938 and delved into the lives of such high-profile participants as Ben Bradlee and John F. Kennedy. Over the years, it is been broadened to include inner-city residents along with offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the outcomes were unexpected, to say the least.
It was established that the greatest predictors of a long and happy life were not IQ, genetics, fame, finances, or social status but, quite simply, close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the research and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, as well as a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, shares, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Psychiatrist George Vaillant, who led the research between 1972 – 2004, shared in his book, Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development, the contributing factors that predict healthy aging:
- The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
- Physical activity
- Mature strategies to cope with difficulties in life
- Sustaining a healthy weight
- Having a stable marriage
The bottom line is, self-care is a must for maintaining our level of joy and for healthy aging – from the perspective of both physical and mental health. Devoting time and effort to making your relationships the very best they can be most definitely falls under that umbrella as well. In fact, additional scientific studies have uncovered that the satisfaction level individuals experience in their relationships is an even better determinant of what their physical health is likely to be later in life than physical factors, such as cholesterol levels.
The study also upended previous understanding that our personalities are carved in stone by 30 years old. Many people who struggled in their early adult years enjoyed happier later years, while others succeeded early in life, but ran into challenges later due to mental health issues and alcoholism.
The research study continues on today, into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to understand, such as how to more effectively regulate stress and whether a hard childhood makes a difference in middle age and later years.
The Los Angeles, CA senior care experts at JFS Care are ready to help instill joy in a senior’s life. Our caregivers serve as cheerful companions to take part in exercise, conversations, and meaningful activities together, cultivating socialization and additional relational connections. You can reach us any time at (213) 383-2273 to schedule a free in-home assessment to learn more. Click here to see our full service area for all the communities we serve.