Building circles of support for people

so that they have a good life even after their parents are no longer here to stand up for them

Building circles of support for people

so that their families have peace of mind about the future

Building circles of support for people

so that they are empowered to realise their aspirations and contribute to their community

Building circles of support for people

so that they form intentional friendships that broaden and enrich their lives

Building circles of support for people

so that they develop stronger links in the wider community

Building circles of support for people

so that they are as fulfilled and happy as they can be

01989 555006

How to Have a Good Life

06 Jan 2016

It's official: loneliness is toxic whereas good relationships boost your health. This fact was confirmed by Dr Robert Waldinger of Harvard Medical School in a recent TEDx talk. (TED stands for Technology Entertainment Design.)

Dr Waldinger is the director of Harvard's long-running study of adult development: "maybe 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," he said. "Almost all projects of this kind fall apart 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 a combination of luck and the 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 90s. And we are now beginning to study the more than 2,000 children of these men. And I'm the fourth director of the study."

The study started in 1938 and began tracking the lives of two groups of teenagers: Harvard students and boys from some of the most troubled families in Boston's poorest neighbourhoods. Most of this second group lived in tenements, many without hot and cold running water.

"Every two years," Dr Waldinger said, "our patient and dedicated research staff calls up our men and asks them if we can send them yet one more set of questions about their lives [...] We don't just send them questionnaires. We interview them in their living rooms. We get their medical records from their doctors. We draw their blood, we scan their brains, we talk to their children. We videotape 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 the study, many of the women said, 'You know, it's about time.'"

What has the Harvard study revealed about having a good life? Three key findings about the crucial role of 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're 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 are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely."

The second finding is that quality matters: "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 mood 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 emotional pain."

The third finding is that good relationships protect our brains: "the people who are in relationships where they really feel they can count on the other person in times of need, those people's memories stay sharper longer."

Dr Waldinger's TEDx talk is entitled "What makes a good life? Lessons from the longest study on happiness". It's just under 13 minutes long and well worth watching. Here's the link:

What Makes A Good Life?