Monday, 20 August 2018 | News today: 22

An 80-year Harvard study claims to have found the gateway to happiness

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There are some things that money can’t buy. True friends and happiness are among them. In fact, an 80-year-long study at Harvard University claims good pals are the key to a happy life.

Scientists began tracking the health of 268 Harvard sophomores in 1938, and have continued the study over the past eight decades. The original participants included President John F. Kennedy and longtime Washington Post editor Ben Bradlee, according to the Harvard Gazette. The study originally only included men, as Harvard didn’t admit women at that time, but the ongoing research has expanded, and now includes 1,300 of the original participants’ offspring. In the 1970s, 456 Boston inner-city residents were added to the study.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” Robert Waldinger, director of the study and a professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, told the Harvard Gazette. “Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.” That, he said, is more important than money or fame. “Loneliness kills,” he added. “It’s as powerful as smoking or alcoholism.”

This is backed up by previous research on the subject. Loneliness is actually considered a public health hazard just like obesity, separate research presented at the American Psychological Association annual conference last year found. It analyzed 148 studies, covering 300,000 participants. People with greater social connections had a 50% reduced risk of dying early. Other research involving 70 studies and 3.4 million people in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia concluded that social isolation, loneliness or living alone were all linked to premature death.

Still, other studies suggest money helps. Psychologists from Purdue University and the University of Virginia analyzed World Gallup Poll data from 1.7 million people in 164 countries, and cross-referenced their earnings and life satisfaction. Although the cost and standard of living varies across these countries, researchers came up with a bold conclusion: The ideal income for individuals is $95,000 a year for life satisfaction and $60,000 to $75,000 a year for emotional well-being. Families with children, of course, will need more.

In fact, the risk of dying earlier jumps 50% when you have a sudden loss of wealth, according to a 20-year study of 8,000 adults 50 years and older released earlier this month by Northwestern Medicine and the University of Michigan. Some theories as to why: Medical care becomes less affordable and the ability to pursue one’s dreams and explore further education may also be impacted by a sudden loss of wealth. What’s more, a sudden loss of wealth could also lead to more social isolation and the inability to afford to travel and do the same kinds of things with friends.

Isolating ourselves from others with technology can have long-term effects. Sixth grade children who spent five days at a summer camp without technology had significantly improved emotional cognition — recognizing different emotions in others — than those who spent 4.5 hours a day at home texting, watching TV and gaming, a 2014 study of 100 kids published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior. Understanding emotion and socialization skills are critical, says Yalda Uhls, co-author and senior researcher at the Children’s Digital Media Center at UCLA.