January 31, 2022 by Dean Bellefeuille

Happy senior couple on the beach

After almost 80 years and a variety of research studies to produce the result: a good genetic makeup and wealth really have little to do with our level of joy. The Harvard Study of Adult Development began in 1938, looking into the lives of such high-profile participants as John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee. Through the years, it is been expanded to add inner-city residents along with offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the results were unexpected, to say the least.

It was determined that the best predictors of a long and happy life were not IQ, genetics, finances, fame, or social class but, quite simply, close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the study, a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital, and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, explains, “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 spearheaded the research study from 1972 until 2004, shared in his book, Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development, the factors that predict healthy aging:

  • The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
  • Physical activity
  • Mature mechanisms in place to manage difficulties in life
  • Sustaining a healthy weight
  • Having a stable marriage

The bottom line is, self-care is vital to our level of happiness – from the perspective of both physical and mental health – and committing effort to making your relationships the very best they can be most certainly falls under that umbrella as well. Simply put, connection and joy go hand in hand. In fact, additional studies have revealed that the level of contentment individuals experience in their relationships is an even better determinant of what their physical health will be later in life than physical factors such as cholesterol levels.

The study also upended previous understanding that our personalities are set in stone by 30 years old. Many people who struggled in their early adult years enjoyed fulfilling later years, while others excelled early in life but ran into challenges in later years due to mental health issues and alcoholism.

The research study is ongoing, looking into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to learn, including just how to better manage stress and whether a hard childhood makes a difference in middle age and later years.

Let At-Home Independent Living’s knowledgeable caregivers help instill joy in a senior’s life; email or call us today! Our caregivers serve as warm and friendly companions to take part in exercise, conversations, and enjoyable activities together, fostering socialization and additional relational connections. Contact us any time at (315) 579-HOME (4663) to schedule a free of charge in-home assessment to find out more information.