In some of my previous posts, I have mentioned how in today’s frenetic life it is easy to end up overlooking our relationships, which are one of the most important aspects of our life.
The people who follow the misbelief according to which the more you have, the more you feel happy miss out on what has been proved to be pivotal for a happy and healthy life.
According to the Harvard Study Of Adult Development - the longest ever running study of adults - the correlation between being happy and healthy, and having quality relationships is straightforward.
When I first came across this study I was stunned because I had always thought that in order to feel happy I should become wealthy and have more.
After all, it’s what our society teaches us: “work harder and harder, so you can afford the new brand gadget”.
But, if we look around we can see on a daily basis people who have everything the majority of us would wish for, and despite that, they are unfulfilled and they feel miserable about their life.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not saying that money is the root of evil, actually, I believe that money is really important, but it depends on how we use it.
On the one hand, money can allow us to achieve freedom, and choose how to spend our limited time on earth, and who we spend it with.
On the other hand, money can become a burden if we are just driven by an obsessive desire to swell our bank account and to pile up our useless possessions.
But, let’s go back to this amazing study conducted by Robert Waldinger, Director of Harvard Study Of Adult Development.
What are the most important findings of this scientific masterpiece?
THREE TAKEAWAYS FROM THIS STUDY
1) Social connections are good for us, on the contrary, being alone literally kills us.
In time loneliness leads to health issues, causes body functioning decline, and shortens life expectancy.
Unfortunately, the number of people who experience loneliness is increasing steadily.
According to a report by Cigna Insurance three in five Americans (61%) are lonely.
That’s an awful lot, isn’t it?
And one of the main reasons why America's loneliness epidemic is getting worse is related to the “always-on work culture”.
At the end of the day, people spend so much time working that they are left with little time and energy to take care of their relationships.
2) It’s not the number of people you are surrounded by, but the quality of your relationships that matters.
Unfortunately, many people keep relationships that are detrimental to their general well-being.
When you have conflicting relationships on a daily basis you end up creating a toxic environment not just for you, but also for the people close to you.
Just think for a moment about how many couples are married and live under the same roof, but quarrel all the time.
Instead of complementing each other, they fight all the time.
Instead of putting an end to this insane and unhealthy relationship, they keep it going.
What a tragedy!
What’s worse, this kind of high-conflict relationship negatively affects the lives of their family members, e.g. children, parents, siblings.
3) Good relationships sharpen our memory.
Let’s be realistic, nothing is perfect, and nor are your relationships.
We all have to cope with the “poking quills” in our relationships, but, as long as we have someone who has our back, who is ready to support us whenever we need, we can be assured that our brain function is protected.
It has been shown that when you know you can fully count on someone else there‘s no argument or struggle in your relationship that can take a toll on your memory.
Cognitive functioning plays a paramount role in determining functional abilities, quality of life, and independence in old age.
Just think for a moment of dementia and Alzheimer's disease and how debilitating they can be.
They do not simply affect a person’s quality of living but also become an economic and emotional burden for families and society too.
Therefore it’s our responsibility to prevent the spread of these diseases by taking care of our relationships.
According to the World Health Organisation dementia is still largely ignored, even if the number of cases worldwide were almost 35.6 million back in 2012 and they are expected to reach 65.7 million people by 2030 and even 115.1 million by 2050.
If we want to prevent cognitive decline and delay the onset of Alzheimer we had better invest time in an active and socially engaged lifestyle.
IS OUR WORKING TIME THE ONLY OBSTACLE TO BUILDING GOOD RELATIONSHIPS?
Above I have mentioned that one of the main reasons why people struggle with building good relationships is the time they spend working, which results in them being alone.
But, I believe there are other potential enemies that have taken over in the last years.
Just think of social media or tv series; they have become addictive for most people.
You may be addicted to them without even being aware of it, as was the case for me.
How many hours do you spend in front of a screen daily?
The new technologies we are provided with can be powerful and useful - e.g. when we are able to get in contact with people that live far away when we can automate a business by leveraging the net and the technology to create more time - but they can also be really dangerous.
It’s really easy to lose track of how much time we are hooked onto things that don’t provide us with anything except for an illusionary immediate pleasure.
Would it not be better to replace the hours you spend scrolling social media or watching tv series with time devoted to nurturing your relationships?
Now that we know that a good life is built on good relationships, investing time in creating great relationships is a no-brainer choice.
Just start this process by taking tiny and simple steps.
For instance, you could stop taking your phone with you all the time so that you will not be distracted by emails, Whatsapp messages, etc.
If you are like the average person your “black mirror” is your favorite companion even when it’s time to have a meal.
More and more people juggle between giving a bite and using the phone.
That’s ridiculous, not only do they not enjoy their food, but they do not even pay attention to the people close to them.
It’s not surprising that their relationships falter.
Good relationships can be built when there is communication, when people are willing to listen to one another, and accept their interlocutor's point of view without judging it.
Let’s start today by replacing wasted screen-time with valuable people-time.
The evening, for instance, might be a great occasion to talk with your loved ones about your day, the challenges you had to face, and what made you feel good or bad.
Something else you may even consider doing is getting in touch with someone you have not heard from for a long time.
The possibilities to work on your relationships are endless, just be creative and take the next step.
Through the process of nurturing our relationships, we learn how to engage in a constructive and productive way with people in all fields, from work to leisure.
Something that can be used to strengthen your relationships is a day outing with someone close to you.
I spent last Saturday visiting Bristol with my mum and her friends, and it was such a nice and productive experience.
Besides visiting a new place, we had fun by simply having a picnic in the park, strolling around, and looking for Banksy's graffiti and street art.
We shared past experiences, we opened up and so we got to know each other better.
At the end of the day, all of us felt fulfilled and grateful for the day.
We can only improve ourselves by having good relationships.