Mallory Welsh, LCSW

I recently read an article from FastCompany, “This 75-year Harvard Study found 1 Secret to leading a fulfilling life” by author Melanie Curtin. I work with many clients who are feeling depressed, stressed, or anxious due to their life stressors, so reading an article that touched on the topic of how to live a life with more happiness, joy, and fulfillment really intrigued me.

The article references a Harvard Grant and Glueck study that tracked data for the last 75 years of two different groups of men focusing on their physical and mental health. The two groups were from completely different walks of life and time periods: one group was made up of 456 poor men growing up in Boston (The Grant Study) from 1930-2014, and the other group was made up of 268 male Harvard graduates from 1939-1944 (The Glueck Study).

Robert Waldinger, director of Harvard Study of Adult Development, found this conclusion: “The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”

This takeaway is a beautiful message that in order to be happier, all you need is to sustain healthy relationships. Unfortunately, our culture tries to show people that we need material things, high paying careers, more followers on our Instagram accounts, and more “likes” on our photos. But at the end of the day, how much can we truly be happy if we do not have meaningful relationships?

Below is a simple list, based on Curtin’s key points from the Harvard study, on why meaningful relationships have a direct connection to a fulfilling life.

  • Mind and Body Connection. The Harvard study proved that having fulfilling relationships (someone you can rely on when having a rough day) helps the nervous system relax and the brain stay healthier for longer. So yes, having a good support system can reduce both physical and emotional pain.
  • Loneliness Connection. The data also is clear that those who experience loneliness see their physical health decline earlier. Thus, keeping in touch with your close friends, family, or partner is crucial for our mental and physical health.
  • Quality Over Quantity. The study also points out that it does not give us a fulfilling life if we have a ton of friends to just go out to the bars with or a significant other who does not provide joy and meaning to our lives, but it is about the people (who could be a significant other, but could also be a close friend or family member) that bring joy, laughter, support, and love that give us a fulfilling life.
  • Two Foundational Elements. The psychiatrist, who directed this study from 1972-2004, Dr. George Vaillant, described the two most important takeaways from the study: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.” Essentially that means that if you find things in your life that are pushing you away from love, it is important to find ways to handle that appropriately. For example, if your job is so demanding that you are not able to spend quality time with those you love, perhaps try finding ways to find more work-life balance. Or, if you lose a job, make sure to lean on those who support you as opposed to pushing them away. Essentially, if you are pushing them away, you are pushing love away, which pushes away a meaningful life.

Thus, if you are searching for a more meaningful life, it starts with the healthy relationships that bring you joy, support, laughter, love, and fulfillment to your life.

If you are currently struggling with having a fulfilling life, it may be a good idea to connect with one of our skilled counselors at Symmetry Counseling today. You can contact them at 312-578-9990 to set up an appointment.