“Let us never know what old age is. Let us know the happiness time brings, not count the years.” — Ausonius
“Man’s effort to attain immortality is an age-old dream. Of course, that is impossible as it goes against the very grain of nature. However, efforts to keep humans healthy as long as they live are both, legitimate and altruistic, notwithstanding the huge sickness-scare industry that has grown in recent years. There have been studies galore to find out what makes people chug along without major hurdles into old age.
One such milestone study has been the Harvard Sophomore class of 1938, whose participants are in their 90s now. It is known as the famous Grant Study. Since 1938, researchers have tracked their development, documenting details every two years about their physical and emotional health, their employment, their families and their friendships.
The big take away from the decades of research and millions of dollars spent on the Grant Study is: all that people really need is love. It is not money or status that determined a good life. “Those who were happiest and healthier reported strong interpersonal relationships, while those who were isolated had declines in mental and physical health as they aged,” said the study.
Robert Waldinger, the director of the programme, shared that key finding in the widely popular programme, Ted Talks. Money may be drying up for the study as the grants come from mainly government sources. The findings have dampened the prospects of the industry backing this study, as the industry will not be able to patent and sell the findings of the study that to be healthy one must be happy.
What have we learnt from the Grant Study participants? The only thing that really matters in life is your relationships with other people. Waldinger feels that there is still knowledge to be gained by expanding the research to the second, and he hopes the third and fourth, generations of the original group. It also could help understand the onset of mental illness which is being taken more seriously as a disorder that is as disruptive to lives as many physical illnesses. Recently, the World Health Organization (WHO) named depression as the globe’s leading health risk. Figuring out the factors that contribute to psychological disorders could lead to identifying ways to mitigate them.
The negative aspect of this study is that it deals with a select set of people in the upper income group and is restricted to white population in the US. Would its findings be applicable to all men and women is a question yet to be answered. However, no sample is perfect; but the data collected so far are valuable.
Of the 268 students among the1,938 Sophomores in Harvard, only 19 are still alive and are in their 90s. But the study got expanded. In the 1970s; 456 Boston inner city residents were enlisted as part of the Glueck Study. Some 40 of them are still alive. More than a decade ago, researchers began including wives in the Grant and Glueck studies.
“Over the years, researchers have studied the participants’ health trajectories and their broader lives, including their triumphs and failures in careers and marriage, and the finding have produced startling lessons, and not only for the researchers,” says the study. Loneliness kills. It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism. Good relationships are the key to good health.
The two most important things that have come out of the Grant and Glueck studies, which are worth recording for our progeny, are that happiness is the sole asset factor for a healthy long life. Interpersonal relations, response to life stresses, capacity to make others happy, touching other lives, and understanding the other person in every problem situation, have come up as important guiding factors.
The other important finding was the negative impact of social status and money on health, longevity and disease. Money neither made people happy nor did it reduce the disease load. In fact, what came out was the reverse. More money brought in more unhappiness.
“There is only one happiness in this life: to love and be loved.”— George Sand
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