The latest results from a US study that’s been going since 1938 (!) on health, happiness and ageing has turned up results that have even surprised its own researchers.

What Harvard University’s research has debunked is the myth that people’s personalities are set in stone by 30 and can’t really change after that. This is great news for those who want to change things up – at any age. Or learn to play the violin!

The findings also showed that having close relationships is way ahead of genes, IQ or social class, in determining if we live longer and happier lives. Robert Waldinger, a professor of psychiatry and the current director of the study, said as we get older, the impact of happiness and social connections on our health has a direct link.

The study suggests the quality of your mid-life relationships is a better predictor of physical health than cholesterol levels.

“The surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health,” he said.

“Taking care of your body is important, but tending to your relationships is a form of self-care too. That, I think, is the revelation.”

And people who were the most satisfied in their relationships at 50, Professor Waldinger revealed, were the healthiest at 80. This level of satisfaction at mid-life was a better predictor of physical health than cholesterol levels he said in his TEDx talk, ‘What Makes a Good Life? Lessons from the Longest Study on Happiness’.

“Close relationships, more than money or fame, are what keep people happy throughout their lives,” the study revealed. These connections protect people from life’s bumps and help to delay the slide of mental and physical decline.

These revelations come from data collected on the lives of more than 2000 people over the last 80 years. What started as a study of 268 university students morphed over the decades to include offspring, partners and other types of groups.

It seems that putting thought and effort into relationships, especially as we age, is key to better health as we get older. At 66, Professor Waldinger, said his takeaway from the study was to invest more time and energy in his own relationships. That says it all!

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