Fulfillment varies in definition depending on who you ask and is a concept many live their entire life trying to grasp. The first task is knowing what makes you happy, the second is making it come to pass.
Attaining fulfillment takes prioritizing what’s important, focusing, and then maintaining that focus.
This Harvard study may have found the one thing to focus on the most.
Harvard’s Grant and Glueck study tracked the physical and emotional well-being of two populations for over 75 years: 456 poor men growing up in Boston from 1939 to 2014 (the Grant Study), and 268 male graduates from Harvard’s classes of 1939-1944 (the Glueck study).
Scientist analyzed blood samples, conducted brain scans and pored over self-reported surveys, with all the studies for over 75 years and according to Robert Waldinger, director of the Harvard Study of Adult Development, they had one finding that surpassed all the rest in terms of importance:
“The clearest message that we get from this 75-year study is this: Good relationships keep us happier and healthier. Period.”
So think about all those big decisions you’ve made during the course of your life. How many of them came down to sacrificing loved ones and how happy did it ultimately make you? Even if we are chasing our career dreams, when we don’t give the relationships enough attention we’ll suffer, no matter how successful we become.
The study shows how having someone to depend on helps your nervous system relax, helps your brain stay healthier for longer, and reduces both emotional and physical pain. On top of that, the study revealed that those who feel lonely are more likely to see their physical health decline earlier and die younger.
“It’s not just the number of friends you have, and it’s not whether or not you’re in a committed relationship,” says Waldinger. “It’s the quality of your close relationships that matters.”
To translate: It’s all about the quality of friendships you have rather than the quantity.
Things like whether or not you can lean on them, the amount of time you spend enriching each other without tearing each other down, and how much you can relax around the people closest to you all play a huge factor into your happiness.
George Vaillant, the Harvard psychiatrist who directed the study from 1972 to 2004, says there are two foundational elements to this:
“One is love. The other is finding a way of coping with life that does not push love away.”
What this data tells us is to invest in our emotional health. Seek out councilors, prioritize personal growth, stress surrounding yourself with emotionally intelligent people, because when we keep love intact, our sense of fulfillment will be consistent.
So start making decisions that equally benefit your relationships. All the tunnel vision you have will mean nothing if you do not have the relationships to share your happiness with.