What Makes a Good Life?

Evan Forester —  January 11, 2016 — Leave a comment

Happy New Year!

For the last 75 years, a group of researchers at Harvard have studied a group of men to determine the secret to having a good life. A book was published to share the results of the study, but since most of you would rather watch a video than read an entire book, you can watch a Ted Talk summary below:

And, since some of you won’t want to watch a 12 minute video, I’ve also highlighted the key points:

Robert Waldinger, the 4th director of this study, summed of the results by saying this, “The clearest message that we get from this 75 year study is this: good relationships keep us happier and healthier.”

In other words, happiness wasn’t about being wealthy. Happiness wasn’t about being famous. Happiness didn’t come from working 70 hours per week. It wasn’t even about pancakes or queso dip!

But still, this couldn't hurt my happiness, right?

But still, this couldn’t hurt my happiness, right?

Instead, happiness (and greater health) actually came from good relationships. Waldinger went on to identify three specific benefits that support their main message:

  1. “Social connections are really good for us, and loneliness kills.”
  2. “It’s not the number of friends you have, but the quality of those close relationships matter.”
  3. “Good relationships don’t just protect our bodies, they protect our brains.”

Good relationships actually improved people’s happiness, health, and brain power. Loneliness decreased those things.

But this isn’t about how many friends you have on Facebook. In fact, it has been said that even though we are the most connected generation, we are also the loneliest.

As many of you know, it can feel very lonely in a crowd. I remember going to summer camp as a kid one time, only to find my friends had to cancel. I knew no one, and despite being surrounded by hundreds of kids my age (who were all having a great time), I felt very lonely. If we’re disconnected from real-life relationships, then watching everyone have fun on social media can feel very similar to a permanent week of my summer camp.

The results of this study shouldn’t surprise us. Scripture has pointed us to the importance of relationships for thousands of years. Romans 13:9 says, “For the commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, You shall not murder, You shall not steal, You shall not covet,” and any other commandment, are summed up in this word: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

1 Corinthians 13:1-3 says, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”

This list could go on, but God consistently calls us to love others, because without love, we really have nothing.

There are a few applications I’d suggest in light of this study:

  1. Focus on real-life relationships: I’m a fan of social media, but I know it can’t hold a candle to actually interacting with people in real life (or even on the phone). It may be easier to aimlessly scroll through a news feed, but if you want to live a happy life, then you must pursue real relationships. I’d take 5 strong, encouraging relationships over 500 facebook connections any day.
  2. Keep relationships fresh: Waldinger actually suggests this in the Ted video; doing new and/or exciting things with loved ones will improve your relationship with them. Go on date nights, play sports, join a book club, worship together, and do whatever it is you can imagine to keep relationships growing.
  3. Focus less on riches and fame: Many Americans are obsessed with these goals. We kill ourselves to get ahead, but this often hurts the most important relationships in our lives. Ted Turner, one of the most famous and successful people in the last 100 years, had this to say about the success he had. “I have been to the end of the rainbow, and there is no pot of gold.” In other words, success without relationships will leave you feeling hollow.
  4. Prioritize the ultimate relationship in life: If relationships with people can increase your happiness, healthiness, and brain power, then imagine what a relationship with God can do. Not only that, when we love Him first, we will find our ability to love others will only increase. As 1 John 4:7-8 says, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God. Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

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Evan Forester

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This post was by Evan, an adventure enthusiast learning to #LiveFully in New Zealand. He now writes for Embracing Exile.