And we are constantly told to lean into work, and to push harder, and achieve more. We are given the impression that these are the things that we need to go after in order to have a good life. But is that true? Is that really what keeps people happy as they go through life?
Pictures of entire lives, of the choices that people make and how those choices work out for them,those pictures are almost impossible to get. Most of what we know about human life, we know from asking people to remember the past. And as we know,hindsight is anything but 20/20. We forget vast amounts of what happens to us in our lives. And sometimes memory was downright creative. Mark Twain understood this. He’s quoted as saying, “some of the worst things in my life never happened”.(Laughter) And research shows us that we actually remember the past more positively as we get older. And I’m reminded of a bumper sticker that says, ‘it’s never too late to have a happy childhood”. (Laughter)
But, what if we could watch entire lives as they unfold through time? What if we could study people from the time that they were teenagers all the way into old age, to see what really keeps people happy and healthy? We did that.
The Harvard Studyof Adult Development may be the longest study of adult life, that’s ever been done. For 75 years, we’ve tracked the lives of 724 men. Year after year asking about their work, their home lives, their health, and of course asking all along the way without knowing how their life stories were going to turn out.Studies like this are exceedingly rare. Almost all projects of this kind fallapart within a decade, because too many people drop out of the study or funding for the research dries up, or the researchers get distracted or they die and nobody moves the ball further down the field. But through combination of luck and persistence of several generations of researchers, this study has survived. About 60 of our original 724 men are still alive, still participating in the study, most of them in their nineties. And we are now beginning to study themore than 2000 children of these men. And I’m the 4th director of the study.
Since 1938, we’ve tracked the lives of 2 groups of men. The first group started in the study when they were sophomores at Harvard College. They were from, what Tom Brokaw has called, the greatest generation. They all finished college during World War II. And then most went off to serve in the war. And the second group that we followed was a group of boys from the Boston’s poorest neighborhoods. Boys, who were chosen for this study specifically because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in Boston of the 1930s. Most lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water. When they entered the study, all of theseteenagers were interviewed, they were given medical exams. We went to their homes and we interviewed their parents. And then these teenagers grew up into adults who entered all walks of life. They became factory workers and lawyers and bricklayers and doctors, and one president of the United States. Some developed alcoholism. A few developed schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder from the bottom all the way to the very top. And some made that journey in the opposite direction.
The founders of this study would never, in their wildest dreams, have imagined that I would be standing here today, 75 years later, telling you that the study still continues. Every 2 years, our patient and dedicated research staff calls up our men and asked them whether we could send them yet one more set of questions about their lives. Many of the intercity Boston men ask us, “Why do you keep wanting to study me? My life just isn’t that interesting”. The Harvard men never asked that question. (Laughter) To get the clearest picture of these lives, we don’t just send them questionnaires. We interviewed them in their living rooms. We get their medical records from their doctors. We draw their blood. We scanned their brains. We talk to their children. We videotaped them talking with their wives about their deepest concerns. And when about a decade ago we finally asked the wives if they would join us as members of this study, many of the women said, “you know，it’s about time”. (Laughter)
So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from that tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives. Well the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier.Period!
We’ve learned 3 big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills. It turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, to community are happier. They are physically healthier and they live longer than people who are less well connected. And the experience of loneliness turns out to be toxic. People, who are more isolated than they want to be from others, find that they’re less happy, their health declines earlier in mid-life, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely. And the sad fact is, that at any given time, more than 1 in 5 Americans will report, that they are lonely. And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd, and you can be lonely in a marriage.
So the 2nd big lesson that we learned is that it’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you are in a committed relationship, but it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. It turns out that living in the midst of conflicts is really bad for our health. High conflicted marriages, for example, without much affection, turn out to be very bad for our health - perhaps worse than getting divorced. And living in the midst of good, warm relationships, is protective. Once we’ve followed our men all the way into their 80s, we wanted to look back at them at mid-life, and to see if we can predict who was going to grow into a happy, healthy octogenarian and who wasn’t. And when we gather together, everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn’t their middle age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. It was how satisfied they were in their relationships. The people, who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50, were the healthiest at age 80. And good close relationships seem to buffer us from some of the slings and arrows of getting old. Our most happily partnered men and women, reported in their 80s, that on the days when they had more physical pain, their moods stayed just as happy. But the people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they reported more physical pain, it was magnified by more emotionalpain.
And the 3rd big lesson that we learned about relationships on our health is, that good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out, that being in a securely attached relationship to another person in your 80s is protective. And the people who are in a relationship that they really feel that they can count on the other person in times of need, those people’s memories stay shaper longer. And people in a relationship where they feel they really can’t count on the other one, those are the people who would experience earlier memory decline. And those good relationships, they don’t have to be smooth all the time. Some of the octogenarian couples could bicker with each other day in and day out. But as long as they felt that they can really count on the other one when they are going out tough, those arguments didn’t take a toll on their memories. So, this message, that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being; this is the wisdom that’s as old as the hills. It’s your grandmother’s advice, and your pastor’s.
第三条我们学到的关于关系对我们健康的影响是，良好的关系不仅只是保护我们的身体，也能保护我们的大脑。研究表明，在80岁之后依然处在对另一个人安全依恋关系中是有保护性的。在关系中真的感到自己能在需要时可以依赖另一个人的人们，他们的保持清晰记忆力的时间更长。而感到自己在关系中真的无法依赖另一个人的人群，他们将更早出现记忆力衰退。而那些良好的关系，并不一定要一直保持平顺。一些 80-89 岁老年夫妇，他们可能一天到晚都在吵架。但只要他们感到自己真的能在困难时刻依赖另一个人时，他们根本就不会记得那些争吵了。所以我们学到的是，良好、亲密的关系有利于我们的健康和完好状态。这是老智慧，是祖母和牧师的忠告。
Why is this so hard to get? For example, with respectful wealth, we know that once your basic material needs are met, wealth doesn’t do anything. If you go from making 75,000 dollars a year to 75 million, we know that your health and your happiness will change very little, if at all. When it comes to fame, the constant media intrusion and a lack of privacy make most famous people significantly less healthy. It certainly doesn’t keep them happier. And as for working harder and harder, there is that truism that nobody on their death bed ever wished that they had spent more time in their office. (Laughter) Why is that so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we really like is a quick fix - something we can get that will keep our lives good and keep them that way. Relationships are messy and they are complicated and they are hard work of tending to family and friends, that’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also life-long. It never ends. The people in our 75-year study with the happiest retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials in that recent survey, many of our men when they were starting out as young adults, really believed that fame and wealth and high achievements were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best are people who leaned into relationships, with family, with friends, with community.
So what about you?Let’s say you are 25, or you are 40 or you are 60. What might leaning into relationships even look like? Well, the possibilities are practically endless. It might be something as simple as replacing screen-time with people-time, or lightening up a stale relationship by doing something new together, long walks or date nights, or reaching out to that family member who you haven’t spoken to in years. Because those all too-common family feuds take a terrible toll on the people who hold the grudges.
I’d like to close with another quote from Mark Twain. More than a century ago, he was looking back on his life, and he wrote this,”there isn’t a time, so brief his life, for bickerings, apologies, heart-burnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving. ” But in instant, so to speak, for that, the good life is built with good relationships. And that’s an idea worth spreading. Thank you!