Translator: Taycir Yahmed Checker: Mohammed Basheer What keeps us happy and healthy as we live our lives? If you intend now to invest in a better future for you, where would you use your time and energy? There is a recent study conducted on millennials in which they were asked about the most important goals in their lives, and more than 80% said that their main goal in life is to become, and 50% of the same group of young people said that the main goal in their lives is to become famous. We're always asked to get down to business and push forward and achieve more. It seems to us that these are the purposes that must be pursued in order to attain well-being.
Pictures from an entire life, from a person's choices and how they affect your future Pictures like this are hard to come by. Most of what we know about human life, we know by inviting people to recall the past, and as we know: the subsequent realization of something is different from the momentary delving into it. Because we forget a lot of what happens to us in life, and memory sometimes makes up what didn't happen. But what if we could observe an entire life, as it took shape over time? What if we could study people from adolescence to old age to find out what keeps people happy and healthy? We did.
The Harvard Study of Adult Evolution may be the longest-running study of adult life ever conducted. Over the course of 75 years, we've tracked the lives of 724 men, year after year, asking about their work, their personal lives, their health, and of course during that time we didn't know how their life stories would turn out. Studies like this are very rare. Almost all projects of this kind collapse within ten years, because too many people give up, or research funding cuts off, or because researchers get distracted, or they die, and no one continues to study. But through a combination of luck and the persistence of several generations of researchers, this study proceeded. About 60 of the 724 men are still alive and continue to participate in the study, most of them in their 90s. We are now beginning to study more than 2,000 children of these men.
I am the fourth supervisor of the study. Since 1938, we've traced the lives of two groups of men. The first group began studying when they were sophomores at Harvard College. All of them completed their university studies during World War II, after which most of them went on to serve in the military. The second group we followed was a group of boys from the poorest neighborhoods in Boston, boys who were chosen for the study precisely because they were from some of the most troubled and disadvantaged families in Boston in the 1930's. Many of them lived in apartments without hot, cold running water. When participating in this study, interviews were conducted with each of these adolescents. And they underwent medical examinations. We went to their homes and interviewed their parents. Then these teenagers grew up and became adults and went through different experiences in life. They became factory workers, lawyers , masons, and doctors, one of whom was the president of the United States.
Some of them became addicted to alcohol and others suffered from schizophrenia. Some climbed the social ladder from the bottom up, and some experienced the journey in the opposite direction. The founders of this study did not imagine in their utmost ambition that I would stand here today, 75 years later, to tell you that the study is still going on. Every two years, our dedicated and patient team contacts the group and asks them if we can send them another set of questions about their lives. Many men from poor neighborhoods in Boston ask us, "Why would you like to study my life? It's not interesting." Harvard students have never asked this question. To get a clearer picture, we don't just send out surveys. We interview them in their living rooms.
We get their medical records from their doctors. We scan their blood, scan their brains, talk to their children. We record their conversations with their wives about their deepest fears. About a decade ago, we finally asked the wives if they wanted to join us as members of the study, and many of them said, "It takes time." So, what did we learn? What lessons have we learned from tens of thousands of pages? What information do we have about these lives? Well, the lessons aren't about fortune or fame or hard work. The clearest message we get from this 75-year study: Good relationships make us happier and healthier. Point. I learned three big lessons about relationships. The first is that social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills.
It turns out that people who are more socially connected with family, friends, and community are happier, more physically healthy, and live longer than those who are less connected. It turns out that the experience of loneliness is toxic. People who are more isolated find that they are less happy, their health declines faster in middle age, their brain function declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are surrounded by loved ones. The sad truth is that at any given time, more than one in five Americans report being lonely. And we know that you can be lonely in a crowd and you can be lonely in a marriage, so the second big lesson we learned is that it's not just how many friends you have, not whether you're in a relationship or not, but the quality of your relationships that matters.
And it turns out that living in the midst of conflict is very bad for our health. For example, a high-conflict marriage with little affection is very bad for our health, perhaps worse than divorce. And living in the midst of warm relationships is good and protective. After we've traced these men back to their 80s, we wanted to look back to their middle ages and see if it was predictable who would grow up to be a happy, healthy 80-year-old and who wouldn't.
And when we put together everything we knew about them at age 50, it wasn't their middle-aged cholesterol levels that predicted how they would grow up but how satisfied they were in their relationships. People who were more satisfied in their relationships at age 50 were healthier at age 80. Close relationships seem to be good for alleviating the difficulties of aging. The happiest couples reported at the age of 80 that on the days when they experienced physical pain, their mood remained happy. But people who were in unhappy relationships, on the days when they experienced physical pain, this was amplified by emotional pain. And the third big lesson we've learned about relationships and health is that good relationships don't just protect our bodies, they protect our brains. It turns out that a deep attachment to another person in the 80's is protective, that people who are in relationships where they really feel that they can rely on the other person in times of need, those people's memories stay more vivid longer.
And people who are in relationships where they feel that they really can't count on the other, these are the people who suffer early on from memory decline. And these good relationships, they can sometimes go awkward. Some of our octogenarian couples can struggle with each other day in and day out, but as long as they feel that they can really count on each other when things get tough, those disagreements have not negatively affected their memory.
So the lesson, close relationships are good for our health and well-being, and this is very old wisdom. Why is this so hard to understand and so easy to ignore? Well, we are human. What we really want is to have a quick fix, something we can have that makes our lives good and enables us to keep it that way. Relationships are messy and complicated, and the hard work of tending to family and friends isn't attractive or glamorous. It is for life. And it never ends. The people in our study who were happiest in retirement were those who actively worked to replace co-workers with their new companions.
Just like the millennials in that recent study, many of our guys when they were young really believed that fame , fortune, and high achievement were what they needed to have a good life. But, over these 75 years, our study has shown time and time again that the people with the best luck were the people who cared about relationships, with family, with friends, with society. What about you? Let's say you're 25, 40, or 60 years old. How do you see relationships? Well, the possibilities are practically endless. It could be something as simple as replacing screen time with time with people or revitalizing an old relationship by doing something new together, taking long walks or date nights, or connecting with family members you haven't spoken to in years, because those family conflicts take a heavy toll on the family.