I never really knew any of my grandparents, so, when contemplating the bigger questions of life, I’ve often wished I could ask one of my wise elders, “what would you say?” Perhaps this is why the Harvard Grant Study particularly interests me, since it essentially asked the question, “what makes a good life?” of nearly 300 elders. Dive into their response below:
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In 1936, nearly 300 Harvard University undergraduates volunteered for a study that promised to follow their lives until death.
Through college graduations, wars, marriages, parenthood, and, finally, the end of their lives, the Harvard Grant study regularly and comprehensively conducted extensive interviews and medical tests to better understand the lives of the participants. The study measured several factors: the participants’ income, physical health, fame (one participant was US President John F Kennedy), hereditary factors, and IQ, all with the intention of answering this fundamental human question: what makes for a long, healthy life?
And, after 80 years of data-collection, one conclusive theme emerged amongst the most-fulfilled, longest-living, and healthiest of these 300 participants.
In the words of the Robert Waldinger, the current director of the Harvard Grant study:
“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.”
Want to live a good, long life? Create a deep well of connection with your friends and family.
Building healthy relationships takes time and empathy. Take a moment to bolster your connection with others with these four steps:
1. Who are ‘your people’?
Identify the three people with whom you want to build a strong, lasting relationship.
2. Spark the connection
Look at your calendar. Where in your schedule this week could you put in the time to build the bonds with these three people? Go ahead and schedule a time to call, get together for a coffee, or write them a letter.
3. Deepen the connection
How could you use your empathy to deepen your connection with these three people during your call/ coffee meeting/ letter? Here are some empathy-building ideas you could consider: What questions could you ask to better understand where they are in life right now? How might you show slightly more vulnerability than you normally would?
4. Keep it up!
All things have cycles and seasons, so it’s understandable if your communication with your three people ebbs and flows, but remember that lasting bonds come with sustained effort. How will you know when it’s time to check back in with your people?
Waldinger himself tells us how this study has impacted his own life:
“It’s easy to get isolated, to get caught up in work and not remembering, ‘Oh, I haven’t seen these friends in a long time,’ ” Waldinger said. “So I try to pay more attention to my relationships than I used to…
It’s useful to know it’s a choice worth making.”
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How close would you like to be with these three people? How will you know that you’ve gotten there?
As uncomfortable a truth it is, we all must die. At the end of your life, when you look back, what will your ‘good life’ look like? Who will you want to remember as being important people in your life?
See you next week 🙂
Illuminate is a weekly e-mail series that provides practical tips + galvanizing inspirations for practicing an emotionally intelligent life. In our time together, we’ll operate from the assumption that you have all the wisdom you need inside of yourself + that you have a purpose the world needs to see. We will explore the tools + techniques to illuminate your own inner wisdom and purpose. If you’d like to receive this free gift of goodness in your inbox every week, subscribe here.
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