As Americans, we put a lot of energy into planning for retirement. We worry about having enough money and even use phrases like “financial health” to describe our long-term outlook.
What we fail to plan for, however, is our social and relationship health. Surprisingly, that can have an even greater impact on longevity than the status of your 401k.
Discovering The Source Of Longevity and Happiness
An 85-year longitudinal study from Harvard set out to identify what makes people happy and helps them thrive for decades.
The research, which tracked 724 participants from 1938 until this year, found that a strong social life and reliable friends are essential for longevity. Sustained social interaction and being “rich” in community and relationships are just as important as financial security, if not more so.
These results are particularly notable for the potential role of mental health professionals.
“The role of a psychologist or therapist can include preparing for retirement by evaluating relationship health status, setting goals for the future, and looking at ways to build and nurture friendships. This Harvard research study can help us shift our priorities and recognize the vital importance of meaningful relationships for our current and future health and happiness. You can see a financial advisor for long-term financial health and a mental health advisor for long-term health and happiness. ”
– Kristin Kleppe, PsyD, Orange County Health Psychologists President
Impact of COVID on Relationship Health
This study also sheds new light on the effects of the Covid lockdowns. Humans are “wired” for social connections and interactions, going back to the days of tribes and small villages.
During the pandemic, people were actively isolated – first by necessity, and then later out of fear. These events created significant changes in social interactions as more people stayed home or worked from home and did not leave for days at a time.
For many, recovering the mental well-being they enjoyed before the pandemic will require a renewed investment in relationships. The most effective way to have good friends, after all, is to be a good friend. Proactively making an effort to stay in touch with close friends and cultivating closeness is essential.
How Positive Psychology Can Help With Happiness Through Relationships
This research from Harvard validates existing studies on positive psychology, which focuses on developing happy and healthy lives. Just as importantly, these results expand the benefits that therapy can provide.
Individuals who are struggling with loneliness, anxiety, depression, and other mental health challenges can connect with a therapist who can provide support through positive psychology, as well as guidance on developing the right kinds of relationships. Even if you aren’t facing mental health issues, a therapist can help you develop long-lasting and life-sustaining relationships.
In conclusion, the impact of maintaining “social fitness” as well as physical and financial health cannot be overstated. Whether it be for the present or for future retirement plans, it’s an investment that will pay dividends.
Orange County Health Psychologists connect individuals in need with local resources who can help you develop these relationships and improve your well-being. Start here to find a qualified counselor near you.