Some years ago, The Beatles had a popular song – Can’t Buy Me Love. It told us what most of us learn over a lifetime – that happiness and health don’t come from money or things. Healthy relationships and love are the most important things, and they can’t be bought or sold.
Despite the popularity of the song, much of our consumer-based culture continues to lead young people (and others) to believe otherwise. According to some surveys, relationships are considered to be on a lower rung of importance for our well-being, than either diet or exercise. Yet, the longest study ever done on what contributes to our health and happiness has recently concluded that relationships are – actually – the most important factor. Still, for some of us, even when we have grown to understand that our relationships have more value than wealth or fame, we find they don’t always provide quite all we need for happiness and health. Relationships can be fickle and temporary.
In a TedTalk video, What makes a good life? Dr. Robert Waldinger asked the audience, “If you had the choice, where would you invest your future best self? Where would you put your time and energy?” It’s a great question, and he had some thought-provoking answers, none of which were about financial investment, exercise or diet.
That long-term study, conducted by Harvard University is currently under Dr. Waldinger’s leadership. It began in the 1930s with 724 young men at the beginning of their adult lives. It’s the longest running study in history, looking exclusively at the indicators of health and happiness. Half of the men selected were Harvard students, already leading lives of privilege, and therefore expected to be successful in life. The other half were selected from the poorest, most disadvantaged area of Boston.
The participants began with a rigorous battery of health examinations and questions. Then, they were contacted regularly every few years and given further medical exams, as well as a fresh questionnaire about their lives. Those remaining alive today – along with their spouses and families – continue to be tested and questioned.
What the research found confirms The Beatles’ chirpy song regarding the predictor of health and happiness. Those remaining participants in the study, whether famous or unknown, wealthy or poor, but who had meaningful, loving relationships, were found to be happier and healthier – both mentally and physically – than those who did not have such relationships.
In fact, when the researchers looked at the data of these individuals at age 50, they found that the predictor of health was not the cholesterol levels of the participants, but the quality of their relationships. Waldinger put it this way:
“The study shows that people who fared best are those who leaned into their relationships with family and friends.”
Yet, many of us don’t have happy and unassailable relationships. In fact, they may leave us feeling vulnerable or unsatisfied. What if they’ve fallen apart despite our best efforts? What if we feel we have good relationships, but are not experiencing good health? Where can we turn?
There’s one relationship we can explore and deepen that provides the most stable foundation for health and happiness and for building solid relationships with friends and family. It’s the relationship with the Divine; and the evidence of its presence in the lives of people today and throughout history is obvious, if we just take time to observe how they have lived – and loved.
Jesus, for example, knew that understanding, and investing in, our connection with God, shapes and influences all human relationships for the better. When talking about love he consistently pointed to it as having a divine origin. Jesus taught his followers to move away from the flawed, variable and conditional view of human love to gain an understanding that – first and always – each of us is unconditionally, divinely loved. When we can grasp that, it’s a lot easier to love ourselves, and consequently others. And, we create circles of love where no one is left feeling unsatisfied or unloved. This can’t help but impact our total well-being for the good.
However, investing in the deeper discovery of the divine source of love, anchors our relationships to a spiritual foundation that cannot be lost or taken from us, and is there for everyone to share. Now, that’s a worthwhile investment!
This article was published in the Vancouver Sun HERE