Dr. Deb’s Mental Health Vitamin: The importance of relationships
By Dr. Deb Wade
GCU Vice President, Counseling and Psychological Services
Priorities. It’s sometimes hard to keep them straight … to juggle expectations and responsibilities, to stay balanced in the process, and to keep what’s really important at the forefront of our focus.
BUT … for 75 years, Harvard conducted a longitudinal study that has tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944.
The study was so extensive that it required multiple generations of researchers. (If interested in the “meat and potatoes” of this study, search online for “Grant and Glueck Study.”)
The conclusion, though, is what’s powerful! They found that the one thing that surpasses all the rest in terms of importance from the 75-year study is … Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.
That fact is a WOW! It’s not wealth; it’s not power; it’s not how many “likes” you get when posting in social media; it’s not accomplishments or prestige. According to the study, the biggest predictor of overall happiness and fulfillment in life is basically, love. (Yes, I have over-simplified a very significant and lengthy study and its results, but digging deeper, this is what is evident.)
It’s not the number of friends one has, and it’s not about being in a committed relationship, it’s the quality of your close relationships that matters. One of the psychiatrists involved in the study added this about the results: “One is love. The other is finding a way of coping in life that does not push love away.”
Perhaps that’s the biggest of all statements! The way that one manages emotions, works through hardship, acknowledges and deals with trauma (loss, abandonment, abuse, family of origin dysfunction, neglect, violence, to name just a few) could contribute to the quality of one’s relationships OR could “cope” in unhealthy ways that pushes meaningful relationships away.
So here’s the deal: It is important to prioritize not only the connections in your life, but also your ability to express emotions and stress so that those connections are not pushed to the side.
If you are having difficulty with your emotional expressions, if you are struggling in the management of your emotions, or if you’re just plain struggling, perhaps it’s time get a good therapist, get the support of a grief counselor or group, and take your issues seriously in favor of maintaining those healthy relationships.
There are countless stories that summarize the following: At the end of the life span, the money earned, awards received, power wielded and accomplishments in the workplace are not what’s important – it’s the relationships that are real, authentic and invested in. Simply put, without loving relationships that have been nurtured, invested in and prioritized through the life span, all the other accolades will not matter.
To that end:
- Be present – let go of the phone and engage in the real person sitting across from you.
- Give your best to your family and your close friends; let the world get the rest.
- Give your time priorities to those family and friends who are meaningful instead of giving unreasonable hours to the workplace or the hobbies that you’re striving to excel in.
- Say the loving words that you’re thinking – don’t withhold.
Of course, sometimes we may get wounded when there is a misunderstanding or a harsh word; STILL, however, this REAL investment in relationships will provide the contentment and sense of satisfaction that we all yearn for!