Good relationships keep us healthier and happier
A few ideas to follow if you'd like to improve yours. Also, 7 other things worth knowing today.
Today’s newsletter is about a huge study of happiness, covering more than 80 years.
Maybe you've heard about this research: It's the Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has followed more than 700 men—and now, in some cases, their families—from the late 1930s until today.
(The study's current leaders have a new book out: The Good Life: Lessons from the World's Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.)
Who doesn't want to live a better life? Who doesn't want to be happier? And co-authors Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz give you the bottom line right up front:
“[I]f we had to take all 84 years of the Harvard Study and boil it into a single principle for living, one life investment that is supported by similar findings across a wide variety of other studies, it would be this:
Good relationships keep us healthier and happier. Period."
With that in mind, here are seven simple habits that can help you improve the quality of your relationships, based on the Harvard Study, other research, and additional sources.
1. Start by measuring.
We can't improve things if we don't measure them. So, as unromantic as it might seem, assess which relationships are important to you, which ones have proven less so, and which ones you wish were better.
Heck, make it annual. Waldinger and Schulz write:
"Perhaps every year, on New Year's Day or the morning of your birthday, take a few minutes to draw up your current social universe and consider what you're receiving, what you're giving, and where you would like to be in another year."
Write it all down, too, so you can look back 12 months from now and see how things have improved or not. "A lot can happen in a year."
2. Nurture casual relationships.
Think of all the simple relationships you have with people, even those whose names you don't know.
Off the top of my head, there's the crossing guard I say hello to while taking my daughter to school, the woman at the fantastic Italian deli near my house who always has a kind word, the postal carrier who recognized me when I had a brief TV appearance and always stops to talk, the people I see over and over when I'm walking my dog in the nearby park.
Sometimes these relationships evolve. Other times they remain constant. But, in both cases, they're important.
3. Make time for conversations.
This is a fantastic habit, and we have brand new research to support its value.
A study out of the University of Kansas suggests that the simple act of reaching out to a friend for conversation—at least once a day, if you can manage it—increases people's happiness and lowers their stress.
"[T]he more that you listened to your friends, the more that you showed care, the more that you took time to value others' opinions, the better you felt at the end of the day," said Jeffrey Hall, director of the Relationships and Technology Lab at Kansas.
Just one conversation a day. Once you start planning and looking for it, it's hard to miss it.
Waldinger and Schultz point to examples of volunteering in their research, and I'll point to two other studies: one that examined 10,000 adults in the United Kingdom, and another that examine 6,000 American women who had been widowed.
In all cases, the studies showed that men and women who took time to volunteer, even just a few hours a week, met more people, formed relationships with more people, and took pride and satisfaction in the volunteer work they were doing.
5. Learn to apologize.
Didn’t we just talk about this on Friday? Sometimes nurturing relationships means repairing relationships. And repairing relationships often means making apologies and amends.
We all know how to apologize, right? I mean, how complicated can it be?
There's a whole theory attached to how to apologize and when—whether to use language that centers your apology on you or gives power to the other person ("I'm sorry" versus "Please forgive me," for example).
All else being equal, however, the more other-centered your apology, the more powerful and effective it can be. It's worth learning ahead of time.
6. Ask questions.
We all like to talk about ourselves. Even the introverts among us, given the right circumstances, have things they'd love to expound on.
If you want to improve a relationship with someone, therefore, ask questions. Give them permission to tell you all the things they're very likely dying to share.
Bonus points: If someone is looking for advice, don't tell them what you think they should do; ask them questions that can help guide them to the right answer.
7. Be vulnerable.
Relationships involve risks, especially at the beginning. So, be willing to take them.
As a practical example, if you want to make friends and develop great relationships, use the rule of three overturns—meaning, be willing to try to start conversations or set up plans and be rejected three times before giving up.
Once for the possibility that they didn't get or understand the message.
Once for the possibility that they simply forgot or didn't have time to reply.
Once for the possibility that it's their ego or fear getting in the way.
In a sense, it's a game of numbers: The more people you try to make plans with, the more attempts you make, and the more opportunities you'll have to build good relationships.
And the sooner you can inoculate your ego against rejection—recognizing that in big things and small, it's probably "them, not you"—the happier you'll likely be.
7 other things worth knowing today
President Joe Biden swept unannounced into Ukraine on Monday to meet with President Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a defiant display of Western solidarity with a country still fighting what he called “a brutal and unjust war” days before the first anniversary of Russia’s invasion. “One year later, Kyiv stands,” Biden declared. "And Ukraine stands. Democracy stands. The Americans stand with you, and the world stands with you.” (AP)
A 6.4 magnitude earthquake struck southern Turkey around 8 p.m. local time yesterday, weeks after a deadly 7.8-magnitude quake devastated the region, killing more than 44,000 people in Turkey and Syria. The mayor of Hatay, in southern Turkey, has said people are trapped under rubble. (BBC)
A firearm enhancement charge against Alec Baldwin has been dropped, a significant win for the Oscar-nominated actor who is accused in the fatal shooting of cinematographer Halyna Hutchins on the New Mexico set of the Western movie “Rust.” Instead of facing a minimum of five years in prison if convicted, he now faces a maximum of 18 months. (NBC News)
An arrest has been made in the killing of auxiliary Bishop David O’Connell, who was shot to death in his Los Angeles-area home over the weekend, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department announced Monday. O’Connell, 69, was found dead at his home in Hacienda Heights, Calif., about 15 miles east of downtown Los Angeles, on Saturday afternoon. Sheriff’s deputies said he had a gunshot wound and was pronounced dead at the scene. No details as I write this on the suspect's name or alleged motive. (WashPost)
United Airlines on Monday rolled out a new family seating policy that will make it easier for parents to sit next to their children under age 12 without incurring additional fees. The change comes after President Biden called out the airline industry in his State of the Union address earlier this month for saddling families with unnecessary fees to sit together and pledged to ban the practice. (The Hill)
The creator of the beloved comic strip "Calvin and Hobbes," Bill Watterson, is coming back—but not for a kids comic strip. Scheduled to be published later this year, "The Mysteries" is a new book slated to be released this year by the American cartoonist along with fellow artist John Kascht about "a fable for grown-ups." (USA Today)
Is it just me, or do some cars now seem to have much brighter, blinding headlights—the equivalent of what we used to think of as "high beams?" Key stat: 2/3 of cars have misaligned headlights, because it’s nobody’s job to check at the factory. (Business Insider)
Thanks for reading. Photo by Toa Heftiba on Unsplash. I wrote about some of this before at Inc.com. See you in the comments.
7 great areas to work on everyday. Thanks
Very good. Lots to ponder. Having read this, I feel that I don’t need to read the book - then again, it’s probably not the type of book I would ever read.