There was a recent study of young adult millenniums. When asked about their life goals for their own happiness, 80% wanted to become wealthy and 50% hoped to become famous. However, they do not seem to realize that when you create a graph comparing happiness with wealth and fame, it is bell shaped graph. Money and acclaim do not lead to happiness. They do not even lead to health and longevity.
There has been an ongoing study for the past 70 years, called the Harvard Study of Adult Development. It has followed Harvard graduates through their full adult lives into their 90s, but it has also followed poor, disadvantaged adolescents in Boston through their adult lives into their 90s. The results have been consistent for both groups and the results clearly indicate what everyone needs for happiness, health, and longevity.
The nutritionists can debate the best eating style. Leaders in health care can debate the chemicals and toxins in our air, food, and water. But the number one lesson in this comprehensive study of life was that friendship is crucial for happiness, health, and longevity. More importantly, friendship has a dramatic impact on all three components of your life at every separate stage of your life.
Animal studies have repeatedly revealed the same results. The mammals with the best / most friends – whether you are discussing monkeys, hyenas, elephants, dolphins, etc. – have the best health and the greatest longevity. With friendship, the stress hormones are lowered and these mammals feel better, look healthier, and live longer. Solo animals die the earliest.
With the Harvard study, the results have highlighted that sad truth. Loneliness kills as much as cigarettes or alcohol. More importantly, our country has a serious problem. One out of five Americans admit they are lonely. Our population now shows that 28% of our adults live alone compared to less than 9% of solo people in 1950s. Our country appears to be moving in the wrong direction. We appear to be moving away from each other, not toward each other.
So, what can we do? As young adults or middle aged adults or older, retired adults? We need to shift our focus back toward friendships and away from work. Quantity of friendships matters, but the quality of our friendships is our best barometer for a happy, healthy, long life. The Harvard study can even predict who will be healthy in their 80s by the depths of their friendships through their 50s and 60s.
There is another unexpected correlation. People with close friendships develop less cognitive decline and a lower rate of dementia. There seems to be an underlying message. Personal isolation and personal conflict are both toxic for the body and equally toxic for the brain. So, if you find yourself alone or in a bad relationship or in a stressful, unsatisfying career, you need to look for new relationships and a new life direction.
You also need to downgrade your emphasis on income and fame. Yes, more money pleases everyone in the short-term, but it does not lead to a happy, healthy life in the long-term. Since Americans are some of the hardest, longest-working people on the planet, does it surprise anyone that our health statistics are getting worse, not better? Does is surprise anyone that our rates of cancer, heart disease, strokes, and diabetes are skyrocketing just as depression is becoming our #1 illness?
On a larger level, we seem to have a cultural deficiency. Our society seems to be steering us in the wrong direction. Society may want us all of us to work ourselves to death so the cumulative wealth of the country is greater, but do you want to work yourself to death? Besides, with our increasing income inequality, your work seems to be making someone else wealthy, certainly not you.
I encourage everyone to stop and re-evaluate your life. I encourage everyone to re-emphasize the importance of your friendships and relationships. I encourage everyone to redesign their lives. That message is the core in my book, The Boomer Survivor Kit, and it is the subtext in my book, A Father’s Letters. A good life is a life of loving. A good life is a life of giving. A good life is living day after day surrounded by friends – people who love and support you.
So, take action. Repair the relationships that have gone south. Find old lost friends. Strengthen your current friendships. Improve the closeness within your family. Create new friends in your neighborhood. Switch from work cohorts to play cohorts. Start by spending more time at home and less time at work. Start by spending more time with friends and less time alone. Think of time as your most important currency. Think of your friends as your most important estate.
Live long and prosper? Remember that line?
It all started with an establishment of a friendship …
And an eventual feeling of family …
Nothing is better!