As I ascend – or descend, depends on how you look at it – into adulthood, I have been thinking hard and long and practically obsessively over what I want in my life. What kind of career do I want? Where do I want live? How much money should I be making to live comfortably? What do I even consider to be “comfortably?” Questions like these and others bounce around whenever I have a free moment, and quite frankly it is exhausting.
When considering what I want in life, most of my thoughts lean towards, “what will make me the most happy?” Everything revolves around that one mood, that one feeling: happiness. What can I do to stay in that positive mindset? What is going to bring me the most joy? Is there even one answer to all of these questions?
But ultimately, what exactly makes a good life?
Robert Waldinger spoke at a Ted Talk conference, entitled What Makes a Good Life, and reported findings from a 75-year-long study following the lives of numerous men to determine what makes a good life. They measured factors such as physical health, answers to questionnaires, interviews, and even recording conversations these men had with their wives. And they have actually found an answer. After 75 years, they have come to this conclusion:
Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
I have been on a personal development bender. I have been creating goals upon goals of personal achievements I want to have. I have been thinking about myself for months now. When I come up with goals, the whole page says me, me, me. Now I am not saying taking time for yourself is a bad thing. I have just been overlooking a very huge part of my life, and that’s the people who are in it. The people who decided, “hey, that person is pretty cool, maybe we should be friends” and stuck around. The people who don’t mind me sending them cat memes out-of-the-blue or the people who understand I don’t always want to go out.
The people who I have grown to love and want to keep close forever.
Waldinger says there are three components arguing that relationships keep us happier and healthier. First, socially connecting with others is really good for our health, while loneliness kills us. This is almost old information. We have all heard that lonely people decline in health faster because being in low moods takes a toll on our immune systems. Being active in your family, with your friends, or in your community keeps you, a social creature, happy.
Secondly, it’s not about how many friends you have but the quality of those friendships. In his example, he says having a conflicting marriage is worse are your well-being than a divorce. People who constantly bring you down or are just negative spaces altogether are worse than people who care for and about you. So if you have someone who is this burdening in your life, no matter who that negative person is, it might be time to let them go.
In the study, those who had bad physical pain days but good relationships, reported still feeling happy. Those with bad relationships and bad physical pains days reported feeling worse because their “physical pain was magnified by their emotional pain.” Showing it is important to develop those good relationships and leaving the other relationships behind.
I have never been the type to keep a lot of friends. I have a small circle because people physically exhaust me. But my circles are tight. Tight as in rad as hell. These people are ride or dies, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The people in the study who were the most satisfied with their relationships at the age of 50 were the healthiest overall by the age of 80. Which goes to show how important your relationships are. Not only for your physical health, but for your mental well-being as well.
If you find that you are burdened by how many people you have to keep in touch with or how many snap streaks you need to maintain, it might be time to think about who you really connect with and focus on those people more. And if you have any negative people that have no light within them in your circle, girl, here are the scissors.
Lastly, good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, but our minds. Those who have someone they can trust and rely on through their old age report less memory loss compared to those who don’t have securely attached relationships. We all need someone to have our backs, or our memories in this case, to help us cope with life. We all need someone to lean on.
On the journey for happiness, we are bogged by the now. The need to feel happy now is supplemented by quick fixes like money or sugar. In every advertisement you watch, what is the main thing you see? Instant satisfaction. But will those quick fixes really keep us happy for years to come? What we really need is something long-lasting, like a relationship with a childhood friend. What we really need are good people in our lives.
Lean into those relationship you have that you feel are worth maintaining. Those friends, family members, or even community members can benefit from you and you can benefit from them. By reaching out and being connected, your health and happiness overall will be constant for a lifetime.
Waldinger ends his speech with a Mark Twain quote:
“There isn’t time, so brief is life, for bickerings, apologies, heartburnings, callings to account. There is only time for loving, and but an instant, so to speak, for that.”
So nurture those relationships, and focus on the most important thing in your life: the people who are in it.