Long term positive psychology studies are always exciting to read about.

Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study tracked the physical and emotional well-being of a sample population for over 75 years, making it one of the world’s longest studies of adult life.

The Grant study followed the life of 456 poor men growing up in Boston between 1939-2014, whereas the Glueck study analyzed the life of 268 male graduates from Harvard classes of 1939-1944.

The sample was asked to fill in questionnaires every 2 years related to their physical and mental health, marital quality, career (or retirement) enjoyment etc. Every 5 years, health information was collected from them and their physicians to assess their health and in-depth interviews were done every 5-10 years to collect additional information.

What noone predicted at the beginning of the research is this surprising finding:

Our relationships have a powerful influence on our health, 75-year Harvard study revealed. #happinessify Click To Tweet

Robert Waldinger, last director of the study said that good close relationships (aka relationships you can count on) “protect people from life’s discontents and help to delay mental and physical decline”.

Another surprising conclusion – how people’s satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor or physical health than their cholesterol levels.

The researchers also found that marital satisfaction has a protective effect on people’s mental health, keeping people having a happy marriage in a more stable mood than those leading an unhappy marriage.

“Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.” said Waldinger in a popular TED Talk, viewed over 13 million times.

In his book “Aging Well”, George Vaillant, director of the study for more than three decades, listed six factors that predicted healthy aging for the Harvard men. These were – physical activity, absence of alcohol abuse and smoking, having mature coping mechanisms, and enjoying both a healthy weight and a stable marriage.

Some of the key insights of the study showed that warmth of childhood relationships with the parents also translated in adult life to more earning, more productivity, increased life satisfaction, less anxiety and less likelihood of old age dementia.

Vaillant’s conclusion is – “Warmth of relationships throughout life has the greatest positive impact on life satisfaction. Happiness is love. Full stop.”

In our today’s world, surrounded with virtual communities and zillions of Facebook friends apparently happiness doesn’t come for granted.

You need real, strong relationships so you can enjoy the benefits of a happy and healthy life. An interesting thought to ponder on, the next time you choose to check your newsfeed instead of visiting an old friend.

Interested to try out other things that will keep you (or make you) happy? Take the 28-day Happiness Challenge!