What is the key to living a happy, healthy life? We already know the experts say eating well, getting enough exercise and social interaction are all ways to help prolong life. But if we are unhappy, isolated and lonely, what can we do to not only have a longer life, but to have a happy life as well?
We can reach out to friend and loved ones, that’s what we can do. I know it’s unrealistic to think that every day can be wonderful, filled with joy and laughter. That’s not how life works. Some days we get bad news, or we don’t feel well, and perhaps we even get the blues. But if you can live a life where you have more good days than bad, why not do it?
What is this “key” to living a happy life? A study by Harvard University Studies show it’s friends. More than money, possessions and health, friendships are the number one thing that keeps us going. This is an excerpt from US News.com about a long term study conducted on the same group of people over several decades:
“Researchers were expecting that factors like cholesterol levels or physical activity would be the greatest predictors of a long and happy life. They weren’t. It turns out that having strong personal connections with other people is most directly correlated to overall happiness, better health and more contentment. “We didn’t even believe our own data at first,” Waldinger says. “Why would good relationships in early adulthood predict that things would go better for you physically?
But other research is finding the same thing.”Now that the study has shown friendship and social connection predict well-being, Waldinger and his team are trying to understand how that works. “What are the mechanisms of good relationships that actually influence how your body ages,” he asks. To do that, they just collected data on more than 1,300 children of the original cohort (which was increased to include a group of about 500 inner-city men in the 1970s), most of whom are baby boomers in their 50s and 60s.
“We are trying to study how relationships help or hurt their health,” Waldinger says. “We are interested in relationships as emotion regulators, stress regulators. We all face stresses and challenges, and how we cope with those makes a huge difference in our lives.” Many people cope with stress in unhealthy ways – overeating, drug abuse, violence – and he surmises that strong relationships help people better manage the normal stresses of daily life.
“It is not just that we feel better, it actually changes our physiology,” Waldinger explains. For example, levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that triggers the fight or flight response, decreases with interpersonal connection. “We know blood pressure when stressed is lessened with a hug,” he says. Social and personal connections also trigger “happy” brain chemicals like oxytocin and dopamine, Cyrus adds. “Having social support does enhance and trigger happiness in general,” she says.”
We all get busy and it’s so easy to let life go flying by without taking the time to get together with people. I think some of us have always known that family connection and friends are important. Now we have the data that backs it up. Take a moment to spend some time with a friend this week. For those who have elder family members, give them a call, go by and see them. It’s good for them and it’s good for you.