We spend a lot of time talking about improving our careers and our finances. This is largely how we define success and happiness. And we devote less attention on improving relationships. The funny thing is, advancing in our careers and making a lot of money hasn’t proven to really make us happy, according to an over 75 year long Harvard Study conducted by Dr. Robert Waldinger. The participants sense of happiness and what makes for a good life was examined. What the researchers found was that the quality of social interactions was most important, more than money and careers.
What’s even more interesting is the devastating effects of poor quality relationships. Research shows that low quality relationships contribute to the development and progression of cardiovascular disease, recurrent myocardial infarction, atherosclerosis, autonomic dysregulation, high blood pressure, cancer and delayed cancer recovery as well as slower wound healing. Another study showed that the quality of social relationships is a major risk factor for major depression. Pretty scary stuff.
But there’s good news, there are significant benefits to improving the relationships in your life, such as:
Improved health & longer life
Quality relationships benefit immune, endocrine and cardiovascular functions. In addition, a study found that people with stronger social relationships had a 50% increased likelihood of survival than those with weaker social relationships. The influence of social relationships on the risk of death were comparable with risk factors for mortality such as smoking and alcohol consumption. And it exceeded the influence of other risk factors such as physical inactivity and obesity. That’s pretty significant.
Improved health habits
In an effort to cope with stress and reduce unpleasant arousal, stress in a relationship contributes to poor health habits like excessive eating or poor food consumption, heavy smoking and heavy drinking. By addressing the issue in the relationship you no longer have this constant stress and the reduction of this stress can improve your health habits.
Sense of control over your life
Relationship stress undermines a sense of personal control. Addressing the issues in the relationship will allow you to again feel a sense of control over your life.
Improved quality of life
As the Harvard Study showed, strong relationships have a positive impact on memory, health and overall satisfaction of life. And those with close relationships cope better with various stressors including bereavement, job loss and illness.
So it looks like improving relationships need to be more of a focus in our lives. Be sure to take steps each day to improve the quality of the relationships in your life.