Once again, social science proves the Bible right.
Back in 1938, it’s unlikely that few, if any, of the 268 Harvard sophomores who signed up to be part of the “Grant Study,” and another 456 Boston inner city youth who registered for the “Glueck Study,” could have imagined they’d still be the subject of a conversation about human happiness 85 years later.
Yet the 724 students, all of whom agreed to be questioned every two years, wound up giving researchers and sociologists remarkable insight into what makes us happy and fulfilled. Incidentally, President John F. Kennedy was part of the cohort until his untimely death in 1963.
The most recent conclusions of the study are found in a new book, “The Good Life: Lessons from the World’s Longest Scientific Study of Happiness.” It’s written by Harvard Medical School psychiatrist Robert Waldinger and Marc Schulz, a clinical psychologist at Bryn Mawr College in Pennsylvania.
Cutting right to the chase, an overarching conclusive theme from the 85-year study is that when it comes to happiness, nothing impacts us more than the strength and health of our relationships with other people. Good relationships are the foundation of a good life. People who make the effort to reach out to others are the ones who reap the richest rewards.
“It’s not just the number of friends you have,” says Dr. Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
Waldinger and Schulz stress that loneliness is massively destructive, but that it’s possible to be surrounded by lots of people yet still feel isolated and alone.
“People who are more isolated than they want to be from others find that they are less happy, their health declines earlier in midlife, their brain functioning declines sooner, and they live shorter lives than people who are not lonely,” writes Dr. Waldinger.
Whether platonic, romantic, or professional, the health of our relationships matter, and on numerous levels. Men who qualified their relationships with their mothers as “warm” earned, on average, $87,000 more a year than those whose were cold. Sibling compatibility matters, too. The study found that If you get along with your brother or sister, you’re going to earn $51,000 more each year and enjoy greater satisfaction in your career than those who are at odds with each other. Men who had warm relationships with their fathers also suffered less anxiety all throughout life.
Dr. Waldinger reports that he and his co-author were most surprised to discover that it was the men in the study who had the healthiest personal connections who lived the longest and who reported the highest degree of life satisfaction.
But is that really surprising when you consider God’s sacred counsel?
Beginning in Genesis, we’re told that man wasn’t meant to be alone (Genesis 2:18). The institution of marriage is a gift given to us to help establish stable homes, all the while allowing the union to teach us to be less selfish and more selfless. We’re also advised to bear with and forgive and love one another (Col. 3:13-14). Even Christianity itself isn’t primarily about rules or religion – but relationships – with the Lord being our primary focal point, followed by our spouse, children, family and friends.
Drs. Waldinger and Schulz make clear there’s lots of room for “course correction,” suggesting that childhood isn’t necessarily destiny. It’s never too late to reach out and either reconnect or forge new relationships. If you’re finding yourself in a dry or despondent position, help is often just one friend away.
Christians don’t need secular social science to inform what God has made crystal clear for thousands of years. But it’s these very findings that affirm the efforts of social conservatives to protect, preserve and promote the family and the sacred gift of marriage. Once more, believers of Jesus Christ enjoy the enviable and reliable benefit of a blueprint or roadmap to a fulfilling life here – and the even better life to come.