Thank you, Harvard University, for recently completing a study that underscores a lot of the things we talk about here: Relationships matter.
In fact, our relationships with others are the one, single most meaningful factor in a life well lived.
“Our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.” – Robert Waldinger, current director of the ongoing study (See the Ted Talk here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=8KkKuTCFvzI)
Not only that, but the 75-year study of 724 individuals indicated that people who lack such relationships actually suffer more, experiencing increased health issues, financial stressors and a generally less satisfying quality of life.
I especially like the term “lean in.” It provides a rather nice visual of two people bending their heads toward one another in an effort to share a thought or maybe some physical affection. But it’s the emotional leaning in that matters – that really sustains us. We often speak of leaning on someone. But leaning in is a more mutually beneficial act.
Young people who were interviewed in conjunction with the study were asked what their life goals were. Most of them said they hoped to be financially successful or famous. Is this what society teaches us as a measure of our lifelong satisfaction? Shame on us.
Those studied by Harvard were compared in the fifties and again in their eighties. At mid-life, those who had good quality relationships had the best physical and mental health – it was a far better indicator than say, their cholesterol levels. Our physicians could learn a few things from this, I think. My doctor regularly orders blood work but he has never asked me about my relationships.
When we are being educated in school, we are encouraged to learn and to work hard. We are taught to read, to do algebra, to cook, to play volleyball and to travel. But no one ever tells us how to maintain close relationships.
Sadly, it’s something we must figure out on our own, for ourselves. Experience is a great teacher. Trial and error lead us down a bumpy path until we arrive at midlife with a contingency of partners, family and friends with whom we are bonded. That is, if we are lucky. Some never make it that far.
We need to start a dialog about the significance of our relationships. Children need to know that it’s important. Relationships are hard and they can be messy. But they are worth it. They sustain us better than anything else we have or anything we do.
Lead by example. Don’t just go through life beside each other – Lean into your friends and family. Tell someone how much they matter to you. Say “I love you.” Show them that you care by doing little things without the expectation of return. Lean in. It’s the only way to really live.