How Happiness Affects Health

The key to achieving a happy, healthy old age is the strength of your close relationships, a long-term study from Harvard concluded. The research began in 1938 and followed participating Harvard graduates for nearly 80 years. It also expanded to include the children of the original participants, Boston inner city residents and women (Harvard students were all male until 1977). According to study director, psychiatrist Robert Waldinger it wasn’t the men’s middle-age cholesterol levels that predicted how they were going to grow old. The research showed that people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80 and that happy relationships outperformed social class, IQ and genetic heritage as a predictor of long and happy lives. More recently, the researchers interviewed 81 elderly heterosexual couples and then checked on them two and a half years later. Here, they found that security in a person’s attachment to their intimate partner was linked with greater marital satisfaction, fewer symptoms of depression, better mood, and less frequent marital conflicts. For the women, the study found, greater security predicted better memory and was linked to mental and emotional wellbeing over time.

Robert J. Waldinger and Marc S. Schulz, “What’s Love Got To Do With It?: Social Functioning, Perceived Health, and Daily Happiness in Married Octogenarians.” Psychological Aging, June 2010, doi: 10.1037/a0019087

Robert J. Waldinger et al, “Security of attachment to spouses in late life: Concurrent and prospective links with cognitive and emotional wellbeing.” Clinical Psychological Science, June 1, 2015, doi:10.1177/2167702614541261

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