After almost 80 years and a multitude of scientific studies to produce the result: a good genetic makeup and wealth really have little to do with maintaining a joyful life as you age. The Harvard Study of Adult Development launched in 1938, delving into the lives of high-profile participants such as Ben Bradlee and John F. Kennedy. As the years went on, the study was extended to add inner-city residents along with children from the original Harvard elite, and the results were unexpected, to say the least.
It wasn’t IQ, fame, finances, genetics, or social status that were the most effective predictors of a happy and long life. It was close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the research and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as 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 led the research study between 1972 – 2004, shared in his book “Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development,” the contributing factors that predict healthy aging:
- Physical activity
- The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
- Maintaining a healthy weight
- Mature strategies to deal with challenges in life
- Having a stable marriage
Essentially, self-care is a fundamental part of creating joy – from the perspective of both mental and physical health – and devoting effort to making your relationships the best they can be definitely falls under that umbrella as well. In fact, additional research studies have uncovered that the satisfaction level individuals experience in their relationships is a much more accurate determinant of what their physical health will be later in life than physical factors such as cholesterol levels.
The study also disproved prior theories that our personalities are solidified by age 30. Many people who encountered difficulties in their early adult years enjoyed fulfilling later years, while others excelled at the beginning of life but ran into challenges in later years as a result of alcoholism and depression.
The research continues to evolve, looking into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to understand, including just how to better manage stress and whether a hard childhood can impact middle age and later years.
Let Atlanta Home Care Partners’ highly-trained caregivers help instill joy in an older adult’s life and offer our expert home care assistance in Atlanta and our surrounding communities; contact us today! Our caregivers serve as friendly companions to take part in conversations, exercise, and enjoyable activities together, cultivating socialization and additional relational connections. We can be contacted 24/7 online or at 404-228-0103 to schedule a complimentary in-home assessment to find out more information.