Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

Dr. Robert Waldinger’s recent TED talk filmed in November of 2015 has been popping up all over the internet and reveals some surprisingly obvious, yet very crucial scientific findings relating personal relationships to general happiness and overall health. The “good life” is apparently, “…built with good relationships.”

As his video went viral, Dr. Waldinger retreated to a silent three week meditation that he described as being, “all about giving me a better look at what’s going on—grounding myself.” A Harvard psychiatrist, Zen priest, and psychoanalyst, Dr. Waldinger is also the fourth director of the 75 year long program known as the Harvard Study of Adult Development. Since the beginning of the inquiry, researchers have tracked year by year the physical and mental health of its subjects in the contexts of their home and work lives in an attempt to find the ingredients for a healthy and meaningful life. This is an extraordinary feat that has created and will continue to create a wealth of data to fuel research into psychiatric and physical health for generations.

This now viral video marks a transition of sorts for the study. As the initial study draws to a close, a 2nd generation study is ramping up in its place involving the over 2000 children of the original 724 subjects. Dr. Waldinger presents a very pointed discovery that he and his colleagues have learned so far from this extensive study. A good, full, and happy life depends heavily upon rich personal relationships and not upon fame, fortune, or professional success. Yes, it’s an old idea but now there is medical, psychiatric, and even socio-economic data to back it up.

Dr. Waldinger sums his findings up into three distinct points:

1 – Social connections are really good for us and loneliness kills.

2 – It’s not the number of relationships but the quality of those relationships.

3 – Good relationships protect both our bodies and our brains.

This may be the longest study of it’s kind and it has shifted focus many times over the years culminating in an incredible resource for just about any inquiry into adult behavior and health. George Vaillant, Dr. Waldinger’s predecessor, has said that the most important findings of the study have been related to alcoholism and its effect on marital relations and general success. Furthermore, his work helped to give new insights into adult development later in life.

More recently, according to Dr. Waldinger, the study has focused on marital success and how couples successfully weather conflict and other challenges of aging adult life. Data from the study has also helped to understand how general outlook affects the processing of emotions. Analysts are drawing connections between overall happiness or sadness and countless life factors ranging from substance abuse to World War II combat to childhood vacations. The lessons to be gleaned from this immense resource seem to be as detailed as they are vastly general. Currently these records are in the process of being archived digitally to make them more accessible to other researchers.

I can think of no better way to kick off Practice Positive than with a video offering scientific proof that the relationships we build around us hold so much more importance to our health and happiness than any professional achievement we can dream of. This talk is a pleasant reminder to slow down, work to foster positivity and inclusivity, and keep our circles warm and inviting.


For more information about Dr. Waldinger or the study itself try the links below.

Robert Waldinger
Harvard Study of Adult Development
Harvard Gazette


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