When you ask parents what they want for their children, a common word that often comes up is “happiness”. The problem with happiness is that we don’t often know what makes us happy. Some of us think it’s money, and others think it’s recognition. More and more, we’re beginning to see that it isn’t either of those. What consistently makes us happy is our relationships with our families and friends – and now there is a marvellous study that proves just that. You can hear all about it from Robert Waldinger on TED:
Robert is the fourth director for this 75-year long study that is still ongoing. It takes an in-depth look at the lives of 724 men. The numbers are now down to 60 (the ones who are still ) but the study now includes their wives and children (over 2000 of them). The bottom line is this:
Good relationships keep us happier and healthier.
To summarise the salient points from this talk:
- Social connections are important – the more connected you are to your friends, family and community, the happier and healthier you are, and the longer you live.
- Loneliness kills – people who are less connected are less happy, their health declines earlier, their brain function deteriorates earlier, and they have shorter lives.
- The quality of your close relationships matter – it’s not about how many friends you have or whether you’re married. If the conflict in the relationship is high, it can be worse than being alone. What protects us are our good, warm relationships.
- Good relationships don’t just make us happier and healthier, they also protect our brains.
- A good relationship is one where you feel you can really count on the other person when it really matters. As long as you feel that dependability in the relationship, it didn’t matter whether you bicker on a daily basis.
Robert Waldinger also made a very important point in his talk that I really feel the need to highlight:
Relationships are messy and they’re complicated and the hard work of tending to family and friends, it’s not sexy or glamorous. It’s also lifelong. It never ends.
Too often, it is easier to let the relationship go than to fight for it. I used to blame Hollywood for its happy ever afters that gave us this false sense of entitlement that relationships should be easy. We watched how the hero and heroine got together at the end of the movie, but we never got to see them bicker about who left the toothpaste cap off, who used up all the hot water and forgot to replace it, who didn’t take out the garbage again, and all that.
The best lesson we can teach our children is that our relationships are important. It isn’t always going to be smooth sailing. We’ll disagree, we’ll fight, and that’s okay as long as we learn from it and walk out of it stronger. What’s important is that we stick it out and knuckle down.
So if you want to raise happy children, teach them how to build strong relationships.