“Social connections are really good for us and that loneliness kills.” Robert Waldinger. On a typically Monday morning I woke up with my heart weighing heavier than a backpack full of bricks and my mind racing quicker than the Indy 500. I knew I was doing what I typically did when I worried mindlessly about every aspect of my life- waking up feeling like I am never going to be good enough in any aspect of my life no matter how hard I work. Instead of wallowing as I would have in the previous year, I took a deep breath and asked myself what tools can I use in this moment to calm myself down and bring myself to a positive place. I did ten of minutes of an anxiety focused meditation on Headspace and then it led me to listening to “The Happiness Lab,” by Dr. Laurie Santos while I began to get ready for work. In the particular episode I was listening to Dr. Santos discusses the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has been ongoing for more than 75 years.
As I began to research the study further, coming across the “What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness.” Ted Talk by Robert Waldinger, the current director of the study, I was fascinated by the longevity and the ongoing results of the study. Since 1938, the study has been tracing the lives of two groups of men – one being sophomores at Harvard College and the other being a group of boys from the most impoverished regions of Boston. From quantitative and qualitative behavioral studies on both groups of men, the study continued to follow these men through their individual walks of life. The study found that it was not the measure of wealth, prestige or social hierarchy that determined a good quality of life, but the social connections these men built over the course of their lives.
As the study still continues, stretching into the lives of these men’s childrens’ lives – I asked myself what does this mean for me, my generation and the future generation. In a recent survey by health company Cigna, their U.S Loneliness Index revealed “Generation Z (ages 18-22) is the loneliest generation and claims to be in worse health than older generations.” We are meant to be interactors by nature. Although the increase usage of technology is not the direct factor, the lack of social human interaction impacts physical and mental health negatively.
Both the study and survey demonstrate how valuable human relationships can be from the beginning stages of life to the end. Automation, social media and isolation all have positive attributes but its the ability to find the equilibrium in these structures in order to ensure we are not losing the most valuable part of ourselves- the part that yearns to connect to a living being. Social media can lead us to think we need a certain number of friends or social interactions, but genuine happiness derives from quality relationships. Its about mutual trust, being able to count on someone on a bad and good day and feeling nourished from those relationships. Whether it’s the barista that I rely on to make my coffee well every morning, whether it’s knowing I can call my aunt if I am in a negative head space at anytime, or whether it’s gathering with close friends and my significant other to play board games on a Saturday night, “a good life is built on good relationships” Robert Waldinger.