I had started to develop a little theory regarding the importance of love and warm relationships in terms of economics when I realized that smarter academics with more time on their hands had already completed the study. Starting in 1938, Harvard University began studying the lives of around 240 undergraduate students and around 300 Bostonians. The goal of the study was to uncover what created overall life satisfaction.
Undergraduates were compared with Bostonians who had grown up in less favorable socioeconomic circumstances. This study, now known as the Grant Study, lasted just over 75 years. Every few years, members of the study were interviewed on a wide range of subjects, including job satisfaction, relationships, physical health, sexual activity, and just about anything else that a human being could use to define happiness and overall satisfaction in life.
If we study the archetypes of the world, we come across the lessons of the Grant Study with little effort, although the message is delivered in a slightly different format in every culture. The Dalai Lama claims that happiness does not come ready-made, but is instead a result of our actions. Gandhi taught, “happiness is when what you think, what you say, and what you do are in harmony.” We’ve all heard that money doesn’t buy happiness, although, like Spike Milligan, I wouldn’t mind taking a shot at proving the point. The New Testament provides quotes and anecdotes of Christ with lessons regarding love and happiness. The Quran reveals that a relationship with Allah and righteousness bring eventual happiness. A Chinese proverb tells us that we can never be happy at the expense of the happiness of others. However, just in case you happen to be a non-theist and perhaps frown on the cultural lessons of thousands of years of human history, let’s continue to the study results.
LOVE LEADS TO SUCCESS
First, the study showed that money truly was not the source of happiness. In fact, members of the study fell across a broad range of income brackets. The correlations between the presence of money and meaningful relationships, however, were shocking. In fact, the study demonstrated that members of the study who described parent and sibling relationships as loving earned significantly more income. Members of the study who had loving relationships with their mothers earned an average of $87,000 more a year than those that did not. Incredibly, IQ was shown to have almost no effect on overall income potential. Instead, the income of members of the study in their peak earning years (usually between age 55 and 60) was shown to be approximately $141,000 higher annually when they rated their relationships as highly loving and meaningful. Study members who reported strong relationships with their fathers also revealed strong correlations to enjoying recreation and vacation time.
RELATIONSHIPS IMPROVE HEALTH
The study also revealed that loving relationships helped to prevent later health problems, which in turn increased social stability. The presence of strong paternal relationships with study members in their youth correlated to lower incidences of Alzheimer’s and dementia. Thanks in advance, Mom. In addition, strong relationships throughout life correlated with lower use of alcohol and cigarettes, the two leading causes of morbidity among study members. Depression, anxiety and eventual suicide in members of the study were also linked to the lack of loving relationships throughout life.
In summary, relationships and love play a key role not only in our long-term physical health, but also in our day-to-day ability to do things and succeed. Love is seemingly the key to resolving the vast majority of our problems, not only at the personal level, but at the macroeconomic level as well. When we study the greatest human successes and failures, we can easily see how the presence or lack of love makes a difference. It is the cultivation of love and relationships, then, that must precede the solving of any great human problem. So, as a beginning effort, please allow me to say that I love you, though you may not yet know me. I love you, though you may wish me ill. I love you, though I may myself have wronged you, and I’m sorry. I hope you feel the same.
Benjamin A. Gochberg lives in Avon.
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