It has taken nearly 80 years and a variety of scientific studies to determine the end result: a good genetic makeup and wealth really have little to do with finding joy in older years. The Harvard Study of Adult Development launched in 1938, looking into the lives of such high-profile participants as John F. Kennedy and Ben Bradlee. Through the years, it’s been broadened to incorporate inner-city residents along with offspring from the original Harvard elite, and the outcomes were unexpected, to say the least.
The results from the study determined that the best predictors of finding joy in our older years were not IQ, genetics, fame, finances, or social status but quite simply close relationships. Robert Waldinger, director of the research and a psychiatrist at Massachusetts General Hospital as well as a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, shares, “The people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were the healthiest at age 80. Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”
Psychiatrist George Vaillant who spearheaded the research between 1972 – 2004, shared in his book “Aging Well: Surprising Guideposts to a Happier Life from the Landmark Harvard Study of Adult Development,” the contributing factors that forecast healthy aging:
- The absence of smoking and alcohol abuse
- Physical activity
- Mature strategies to manage challenges in life
- Sustaining a healthy weight
- Having a stable marriage
The bottom line is, self-care is a must to our level of joy – from the perspective of both physical and mental health – and committing time and effort to making your relationships the very best they can be most certainly falls under that umbrella as well. In fact, additional scientific studies have revealed that the level of contentment men and women experience in their relationships is an even better determinant of what their physical health will be later in life than physical factors like cholesterol levels.
The research study also upended earlier understanding that our personalities are carved in stone by 30 years old. Many who encountered difficulties in their early adult years enjoyed happier later years, while others excelled at the beginning of life but ran into challenges later as a result of alcoholism and depression.
The research is ongoing, looking into its third and fourth generations, as researchers believe there is still more to understand, including just how to better manage stress and whether a hard childhood makes a difference in middle age and later years.
Let Golden Harmony Home Care’s highly-trained caregivers help instill joy in an older adult’s life; email or call us today! Our caregivers serve as friendly companions to engage in conversations, exercise, and enjoyable activities together, fostering socialization and additional relational connections. You can reach us any time at 919-426-7522 to schedule a free in-home consultation to find out more information about home care in Raleigh, NC and the surrounding area.