Are Healthy Relationships the Key to Happiness?

couple smiling

In a world where we’re all working to be smarter, fitter and wealthier, science shows a surprising place where we can find the key to the good life – our relationships.

If there was a prescription for happiness and health, and it was free and accessible to all, no insurance required, would you ask your doctor for it? Turns out, there is one, or at least as close to one as science has yet to uncover, thanks to the largest longitudinal study on adult life ever conducted. And you don’t need a doctor’s order!

The Harvard Study of Adult Development has been following 724 men from all different backgrounds for the last seven and a half decades—doing blood tests, brain scans and measurements and observations of all sorts. And the conclusion is this: the single most important factor correlated with healthy longevity is good relationships. The study, still ongoing, has found that those who are healthiest at age 80 reported the most satisfactory relationships when they were in their 50s.

Whether it’s the body’s production of the feel-good hormone oxytocin, also called the “hug hormone” or ”cuddle chemical” that gets released in response to physical intimacy, or the anti-anxiety protection one gets from a sense that someone has your back, relationships of all sorts – family, close friend, neighborly, even social media – can add to quality of life and health. A 2015 Brigham Young University study showed that a strong social support system improves chance of survival by 50%.

So if you’re looking to make a health investment this spring, consider looking close to home, maybe springing for a mid-week date with your partner or child. Or put a little extra thought and effort into making the most of seasonal celebrations like Mother’s and Father’s Day, graduations and weddings—those points of connection that bring us together. According to Roper St. Francis internist Dr. Kopriva Marshall, “high quality friendships make a person feel richer without regard to their bank account.”

Want to know more? See our Spring issue of House Calls magazine to hear what our doctors have to say about this silver bullet for health and happiness.