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The power of community: 80-year Harvard study reveals the importance of strong relationships for health and happiness

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  • Staff Report 

A groundbreaking study conducted by Harvard researchers over the course of 80 years has revealed a powerful link between strong relationships and overall well-being. The study, which began in 1938, followed the lives of 268 Harvard sophomores, eventually expanding to include their offspring and inner-city residents. The findings have been nothing short of striking, showing that close relationships with family, friends, and community are crucial for living a long and happy life.

The study began during the Great Depression, with scientists hoping to uncover clues about leading healthy and happy lives. However, they got much more than they bargained for. Over the decades, researchers have collected a wealth of data on the physical and mental health of the participants, who include eventual President John F. Kennedy and Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee. Today, only 19 of the original cohort are still alive, all in their mid-90s.

The researchers found that strong relationships protect individuals from negative life experiences, delay physical and mental decline, and are better predictors of long, happy lives than social class, IQ, or genetics. This was true across the board among both the Harvard men and the inner-city participants. Furthermore, several studies found that people’s level of satisfaction with their relationships at age 50 was a better predictor of physical health than their cholesterol levels were.


Marital satisfaction was also found to have a protective effect on mental health. The study found that people who reported high levels of satisfaction in their marriages at age 50 were less likely to develop memory problems later in life. In addition, the researchers found that people with strong social connections were less likely to suffer from depression or loneliness.

The study has received funding from private foundations, but has been largely financed by grants from the National Institutes of Health, first through the National Institute of Mental Health, and more recently through the National Institute on Aging. The long-term research has produced a wealth of data, including vast medical records and hundreds of in-person interviews and questionnaires.

In conclusion, this study highlights the importance of community in our lives, and the impact of relationships in our overall well-being. Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. Building and maintaining strong relationships is an essential part of leading a happy and healthy life.

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