What Makes Us Happy & Healthy?

2023 | Week of February 20 | Radio Transcript #1504

The Harvard Study of Adult Development  has followed 700 men—and now in some cases, their families— from the 1930s until today and has identified what helps make people happy and healthy.

Born out of the study was the book The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness, authored by the study’s current leaders, Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz. The authors conclude:

“For 84 years (and counting), the Harvard Study has tracked the same individuals, asking thousands of questions and taking hundreds of measurements to find out what really keeps people healthy and happy…

“[O]ne crucial factor stands out… [I]t’s not career achievement, or exercise, or a healthy diet. Don’t get us wrong; these things matter (a lot). But one thing continuously demonstrates its broad and enduring importance:

“Good relationships

“[I]f we had to take all 84 years of the Harvard Study and boil it into a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this:

“Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period.” (Emphasis added.)

In this month where we celebrate National Marriage Week, what more fitting message could there be? Relationships matter!

The study identified nine simple habits that can put you on track for a healthier and happier life:

  • Take stock of your relationships – take time to assess if there are relationships that could be improved.
  • Nurture casual relationships – continue to cultivate relationships with acquaintances, even if you don’t know their name!
  • Make time for conversations – a recent study from University of Kansas demonstrated that the act of reaching out to someone once a day for a conversation increases happiness and lowers stress!
  • Cultivate kindness – take extra care to be kind to the people who matter to you.
  • Volunteer – those “who took time to volunteer, even just a few hours a week, met more people, formed relationships with more people, and took pride and satisfaction in the volunteer work they were doing.”
  • Learn to apologize – especially if it helps repair a relationship.
  • Ask questions – some people may surprise you with how much they open up after you ask a question!
  • Express your love – through an act, like helping someone out with a project, or the simplest phrase, “I love you.”
  • Be willing to be vulnerable–you may be rejected–or not!

These tips apply to any relationship in our lives, but no earthly relationship is more important than the marriage relationship and the family that typically develops from that relationship. That tells us promoting marriage and family is one of the best things we can do to help people be happier and healthier.

For those who see most of life from an economic perspective, especially those in government, consider the economic impact of having more people who are happier and healthier.  When divorce rates go down, everyone profits financially since each divorce in Wisconsin has public costs of about $30,000.  Healthier people means significant health care and insurance savings.

Think about how the relationships in our own family (relationships we may take for granted!) could flourish if we make a conscientious effort to incorporate these nine habits into our daily lives. Such efforts pay off right now, but they also are an investment in the future. Children who grow up in homes where they see their married dad and mom in a healthy, growing relationship are more likely to want that and actually seek it for themselves. Strong family relationships can have very huge generational impact.

Of course, no relationship is more important than the one we are designed to have with God the Father, through His Son Jesus Christ. Biblical Christianity is all about relationships. Jesus told us that greatest commandment is that we are to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, and mind, and that the second greatest commandment is like the first: love our neighbor as ourselves. Those words almost scream “relationships.” It really shouldn’t surprise us that relationships, especially in marriage and family, create happiness and good health. And the happier and healthier individuals are, the better off society is in general.

This is Julaine Appling for Wisconsin Family Council reminding you the prophet Hosea said, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.”

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