A good article recently appeared in the Wall Street Journal summarizing an extensive Harvard study on relationships and loneliness. The bottom line is that social relationships have an immense positive impact on one’s life. So does loneliness, a significant negative impact. Here a few excerpts:
- Through all the years of studying, one crucial factor stands out for the consistency and power of its ties to physical health, mental health and longevity. Contrary to what many people might think, it’s not career achievement, or exercise, or a healthy diet. Don’t get us wrong; these things matter. But one thing continuously demonstrates its broad and enduring importance: good relationships.
- Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period. If you want to make one decision to ensure your own health and happiness, it should be to cultivate warm relationships of all kinds.
- On days when men and women spent more time in the company of others, they were happier.
- The simple measure of time spent with others proved quite important, because on a day-to-day basis this measurement was clearly linked with happiness. On days when these men and women spent more time in the company of others, they were happier. In particular, the more time they spent with their partners, the more happiness they reported.
- But people who were in more satisfying relationships were buffered somewhat from these ups and downs of mood—their happiness did not decline as much on the days when they had more pain. Their happy marriages seemed to have a protective effect.
- How can loneliness be so physically harmful when it’s a subjective experience?
- The same effects of loneliness continue today. The feeling of loneliness is a kind of alarm ringing inside the body. At first, its signals may help us; we need them to alert us to a problem. But imagine living in your house with a fire alarm going off all day, every day, and you start to get a sense of what chronic loneliness is doing behind the scenes to our minds and bodies.
- We don’t need to be with all of our good friends all of the time. In fact, some people who energize us and enhance our lives might do so specifically because we don’t see them very often. Sometimes we are compatible with a person only to a point, and that point is good enough. But most of us have friends and relatives who energize us and who we don’t see enough.
- A few adjustments to our most treasured relationships can have real effects on how we feel. We might be sitting on a gold mine of vitality that we are not paying attention to, because it is eclipsed by the shiny allure of smartphones or pushed to the side by work demands.
“Lifelong Fulfillment (Harvard Study).” Wall Street Journal (January 14, 2023).