What makes you happy? Is it meeting your career goals, driving your dream car, or shopping? Or perhaps it’s being outdoors, enjoying your favorite hobby, or eating your favorite foods?
Harvard University tracked thousands of people over a period of 85 years, covering three generations: grandparents, parents, and children, and compared the data to other studies they were conducting. And what they found was that the people who were the happiest, who lived the longest, and who stayed the healthiest throughout the years, were those who had good relationships.
Happiness wasn’t found in one’s career, as workaholics tend to not pay attention to relationships. In their studies, when workaholics reached their 80s and reflected on their lives, they were filled with regret. Although those with more education lived longer, it wasn’t due to having more money. Researchers believe that educated people tend to be more responsive to health messages and more likely to take what they learn and put it into practice.
One of the ways relationships benefit our health and longevity is by helping us manage stress.
When people experience stress, hormones are released in the body, causing blood pressure and heart rate to increase, muscles to tense up, and more. Over time, this can cause wear-and-tear to our nervous system, create gut issues, lower our immunity, and lead to chronic pain and headaches. Having someone to talk to about their problems helps people to deal with the inevitable stressful periods in life, which helps our body systems return to normal.
Researchers recommend taking stock of your social relationships. There are many different types of relationships – such as with family, friends, acquaintances, coworkers, and romantic interests.
Which relationships in your life do you want to strengthen? Which types of relationships do you want more of? Perhaps relationships with friends you haven’t seen in a long time, with family members who have moved away and with whom you haven’t kept in touch, with co-workers who you want to get to know more, or perhaps with an entirely new set of people with whom you share a common passion for a sport or hobby.
Remember social fitness is like physical fitness – we need to find ones to fit with our lifestyle and then practice or nurture them regularly.
While relationships were the most important element to living long happy lives, there were five other things that the Harvard researchers found important to keeping healthy.
Following a plant-based diet, slows aging of the brain and body. Exercising regularly, at least 30 minutes a day, prevents physical disability and promotes independent living and mobility without assistance. Maintaining a healthy weight, that is not based only on the weight on the scale, but on body fat percentage or measurements. Not smoking, as smoking harms every organ in the body and promotes disease and early death. Limiting alcohol, as it weakens the immune system, increases risk of dementia, and can cause cancer, heart disease, depression, and social problems.
Those who practiced all five of these habits lived up to 14 years longer. Grab these keys and live your life to the fullest!