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Scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938 in hopes that one of the biggest longitudinal studies in history would reveal clues as to which factors lead to healthy and happy lives.

The scientists got more than they had hoped for.

60 of the original 268 participants are still alive today - many in their 90s. And though the original study only included men (Harvard didn’t admit women at that time), the ongoing research expanded over the last several decades and now includes 1,300 of the original participants’ children.

...So what was the biggest secret these researchers uncovered?

Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” explains Robert Waldinger, fourth director of the study and professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School.
“Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation."

Turns out that people who are more socially connected to family, to friends, and to community, are happier, physically healthier, and live longer.

But it's not just the number of friends you have or whether or not you're in a committed relationship. It's the quality of those friends and the quality of your relationship.

What Waldinger refers to as "conflicted relationships" are very bad for our physical and mental health. Holding onto toxic relationships in hopes that they will improve is actually more harmful than letting go of a friendship or getting divorced.

The people that were happiest with their relationships at age 50 turned out to be the healthiest at age 80.

Relationships are good for our brains, too. Those in healthy relationships where the person felt that they could really count on someone else, were found to have sharper memories well into their 80s and 90s. 

The Silver Lining

Unfortunately for those looking for a quick fix to being happier, this study points to the fact that there is none. 

Relationships are long, complicated things that take years to develop and a lifetime to maintain. The work behind a good relationship never ends.

So lean into your relationships. Work on them constantly. Don't get mad or frustrated. Seek to find new friends. Tell your partner you love them. Call your mother.

Until next Friday, Thinkers

- Brian

P.S. Here are Glassdoor's 50 Best Jobs in America for 2019.
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