Linda Lewis Griffith

Love leads to happier, healthier longer lives

Good relationships keep us healthy and happy, research shows.
Good relationships keep us healthy and happy, research shows. Lexington Herald-Leader/TNS

It seems the Beatles were right: Love is all there is. And there’s a long-running study at Harvard to prove it.

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been tracking 724 subjects since 1938. One group was composed of Harvard College sophomores from the classes of 1939-1944. A second group was made up of disadvantaged, non-delinquent inner-city youths who grew up in Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. The participants were all male, white and American-born.

The study included four members who eventually ran for the U.S. Senate, one who served in a presidential Cabinet, and one President of the United States.

The men have been exhaustively studied. Every two years, they complete questionnaires and are interviewed about all aspects of their lives. Their medical records are examined. Blood samples are drawn. They are videotaped interacting with their wives, children and grandchildren.

About 60 members are still living; nearly all are in their 90s.

Robert Waldinger, M.D., is the fourth director of the program. In a December 2015 TED Talk, he discussed the findings of the research.

“The lessons we’ve learned aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder,” he said. “The clearest message is that good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

Waldinger noted these trends:

  • People who are socially connected live happier, healthier and longer lives.
  • Loneliness is toxic. People who feel isolated begin aging more rapidly in midlife and tend to die younger. Sadly, at any given time, one in five Americans report that they are lonely.
  • The quality of relationships is important. Stable, loving relationships act as a buffer from life’s inevitable stressors. On the other hand, conflicted relationships are physically damaging and are more harmful than getting a divorce.
  • Good relationships protect our brains. Folks who were securely attached in their 80s experienced less memory decline.
  • The takeaway message is clear: You can’t have too much love in your life. And it’s wise to include your sweetie, your friends and loved ones in the mix. Your life literally depends on it.

Linda Lewis Griffith’s column is special to the Tribune. She is a local marriage and family therapist. For information or to contact her, visit www.lindalewisgriffith.com.

Add more love in your life

  • Look up from your screens. Your cellphone or your computer may be wreaking havoc with your social life. Power off your electronics and power up your relationships.
  • Reach out to estranged family members. Hate-filled feuds exact an awful toll on both your health and your psyche. Be willing to bury the hatchet. Call a long-lost family member and extend an olive branch. Even if your invitation is spurned, you’ve set the process of reconciliation in motion.
  • Plan a visit to a friend or family member. Arrange an outing or a trip with someone you’ve been meaning to see. Quit making excuses. Do it now before it’s too late.
  • Join a group. Make new friends by convening with like-minded members. Check out meetup.com or any organization that strikes your fancy.
  • Volunteer. A sure-fire way to connect with others is to donate your time to a worthy cause. You’ll feel good about what you’re doing. And you’ll work alongside equally big-hearted folks.
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