Pursuing the Good Life Effectively

What makes for a healthy and satisfying life?

What are you resolving to do in 2016?  As one year closes and another begins, wouldn’t it make sense to pursue that which will have us be healthiest and most satisfied?

And how do we really know what has us be most healthy and most satisfied?  What if what we think might be good for us isn’t accurate?  What happens when culture skews our desires and dreams to pursue goals that won’t actually give us the satisfaction and joy that we seek?

Anne Lamott wrote yesterday on Facebook to the millions of folks that will be starting a “diet” to lose weight this week:

I have been addicted to the scale, too, which is like needing Dick Cheney to weigh in every morning on my value as a human being. Can you put away your tight pants? Wear forgiving pants. The world is too hard as it is, without letting your pants have an opinion on how you are doing. I struggle with enough esteem issues without letting my jeans get in on the act, with random thoughts about my butt.

Too true, isn’t it?

We pursue thinness like that will make us happy and healthy. Like when we are skinnier, we feel better about ourselves, about life.  Saint Anne says this:

It’s okay to stop hitting the snooze button, and to pay attention to what makes you feel great about yourself, one meal at a time. Unfortunately, it’s yet another inside job. If you are not okay with yourself at 185, you will not be okay at 150, or even 135. The self-respect and peace of mind you long for is not out there. It’s within. I hate that. I resent that more than I can say. But it’s true.

So…if you ask a Millenial (folks between late teens and mid-thirties) what their goals are:

  • 80% of them say they want to be wealthy…rich, even
  • 50% of them say they want to be famous…to be known (at the core, is this about wanting to be seen and valued?)

So…if you pursue wealth and notoriety, will that give you life satisfaction?  Are those goals gonna really get you want will make the most impact?

Nope.  At least, a 75 year old carefully designed and fastidiously carried out research project out of Harvard University would say not.  When men (alas, women were only added to the study in the last 10 years,[insert heavy sigh here]) were followed from their teens until their 90’s…to see what impact various factors had on their healthy, their life satisfaction, and their very marbles that hold the memory for it all, the results clearly demonstrates factors that determined success. (and if you don’t believe me, listen to this TED talk with psychiatrist, Dr. Robert Waldinger). Dr. Waldinger is the fourth in a succession of researchers to head up The Harvard Study of Adult Development project that began with a combined total of over 700  Harvard students and disadvantaged youth in Boston beginning in late 1930’s.
The good life is built with good relationships. Quote from Dr. Waldinger, Researcher/Psychiatrist from Harvard University. From the TED Talk. 75 year longitudinal study
This is a fascinating TED talk that is worth 12 minutes of your life:


Dr. Waldinger states:

So what have we learned? What are the lessons that come from the tens of thousands of pages of information that we’ve generated on these lives? Well, the lessons aren’t about wealth or fame or working harder and harder. The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.

So…you understand why I claim as a mantra everywhere I go: We are wired for connection.  When we have good connections with ourselves, each other (particularly a precious friends and family who comprise our meaningful tribe) and spiritually, we flourish.  We find purpose and meaning to life.  We are healthier and have a joy that goes beyond circumstances.

Let me give you the three clear conclusions that have arisen from this 75 year study…all of which point to the value of quality connections:

1. Close relationships give us greater life satisfaction.

When we have relationships in our lives, we are happier, we live longer, we have better memories. Our immunity is better.

Loneliness is toxic.  Folks who are lonely have less life satisfaction and shorter life spans. Their health declines earlier and faster in midlife.  Their brain function isn’t as good later in life as well connected folks.

2. The quality of relationships matters

Connections are more than about having people around, or having married to a life partner. The quality of relationships matters. High conflict relationships without warmth have a negative effect on your wellbeing.

Having the same mailing address, or sleeping in the same room as your spouse does not qualify as a meaningful, warm relationship.

Knowing your spouse has your back does.

Not having divorce papers doesn’t qualify as being married in a way that is good for your health, your memory, and your life satisfaction.  Having your spouse be a great friend does matter. And you can still disagree and fight and fundamentally have different opinions about money, politics or anything else and still be meaningfully connected!

Interestingly, as folks age, and painful conditions develop…if they have meaningful connections, their quality of life does not decrease with increased physical pain.   Folks that have unsupportive relationships experience more emotional pain on the days when they experience more physical pain.

3. Good relationships protect our brains

Bodies are better off when a person has good relationships…so are brains.  When octogenarians have  relationships where they know they can really count on somebody, their memories stay sharper longer.
When folks feel they don’t have anyone to count on, their memories decrease earlier.
This doesn’t mean you have to live without arguments…couples who bicker often don’t experience the memory decline, as long as each person knows that their spouse is ultimately in their corner.
So this message, that good, close relationships are good for our health and well-being, this is wisdom that’s as old as the hills. Why is this so hard to get and so easy to ignore? Well, we’re human. What we’d really like is a quick fix, something we can get that’ll make our lives good and keep them that way.Relationships are messy and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. It never ends. The people in our 75-year study who were the happiest in retirement were the people who had actively worked to replace workmates with new playmates. Just like the millennials in that recent survey, many of our men when they were starting out as young adults really believed that fame and wealth and high achievement were what they needed to go after to have a good life. But over and over, over these 75 years, our study has shown that the people who fared the best were the people who leaned in to relationships, with family, with friends, with community.

This world would be healthier, happier place if folks dedicated their lives to quality relationships.

What would it look like for you to lean into relationships in 2016?
  • Cell phones in a basket in the corner during dinner?
  • One less hour of screen time replaced with a board game or a conversation or a walk in the park?
  • Choosing to join a book club, getting together with a cousin regularly to do a project?
  • Finding a night for date night? Trying a new restaurant, or reading a book out loud together, or doing online surveys together that provoke discussion and create a few laughs?

Do you long for the good life?

Get meaningfully connected!

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