BY BROOKLYN PINHEIRO
Like many young enthusiastic individuals George Bailey was eager to head out of his small town and see the world. See the Coliseum, build bridges, make money. But as you witness in It’s A Wonderful Life, despite not getting any of those things, his life story is still considered a success.
Dr. Robert Waldinger poses a question to his audience at a Ted Talk event, “If you were going to invest now in your future best self where would you put your time and your energy?” Dr. Waldinger is the fourth director of the 75-year-long Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study aimed to understand what factors in life would lead to the best physical and mental health in old age.
The study looked at two groups of men. One consisted of 268 Harvard students while the other was 456 young men from the inner-city neighbourhoods of Boston. Every two years the researchers interviewed the men and their families, completed medical exams and watched as the participants interacted with people in their lives. Out of the 724 original men 60 are still alive in their 80s and 90s continuing to participate in the study.
By looking at these men’s lives the study came to the conclusion that those who had the strongest personal relationships lived longer healthier lives. That’s it, plain and simple. While some of the men climbed the socio-economic ladder and others fell down it, the consistent factor of health was whether or not they had strong bonds with family, friends and community.
When it comes to relationships the quality matters more than the quantity. The study showed that the memory of the participants stayed sharper longer when they had partners who they could count on when times got tough. It wasn’t surprising to the researchers that relationships were the key factor to health and happiness, which raises the question why don’t people make them the focus of their lives?
The most common goals among young people today include career and financial success, a possibly correlated result is that one in five Americans suffers from loneliness. This study shows that focusing energy on what would be perceived as success is not actually the way to get the best out of life, yet careers and fame remain important goals. Dr. Waldinger believes it’s due to the fact that relationships take time and effort and are often not glamorous so people spend less time nurturing them. The study shows that the answer for happiness lies not in money and power but in the people surrounding us, promoting we put our time into them instead.
It turns out what Clarence told George is true – “no man is a failure who has friends.”