“Nothing is perfect. Life is messy. Relationships are complex. Outcomes are uncertain. People are irrational.” -Hugh Mackay
TASK AT HAND: This week I’m thinking about relationships after reading Harvard’s 75-year study of human happiness. Called the Study of Adult Development at the Harvard Medical School, but better known as the Grant Study, this recently published investigation is the longest-running study of human happiness. You can find the study here.
The Grant Study began in 1938 as a counterpoint to the disease model of medicine and sought to ascertain the conditions that enhance wellbeing or happiness. It followed the lives of 268 healthy sophomores from the Harvard classes between 1939 and 1944. There is no other study like it in length of follow-up.
The conclusion after 75 years of study: good relationships make us happier and healthier! There is of course significant bias in a study with a homogenous population based entirely on privileged white men. While the latter serves to emphasize the need to critically interpret any piece of information, it reminds me that relationships – how we collide and interact with others – has the potential for massive impact on our happiness and health.
Relationships are complex, but there are certain strategies that give you the best chance of cultivating a matter of significance with other people and groups.
1. Enter relationships without expectations. Entering a relationship with expectation is akin to degrading human encounter to transaction. As I’ve written before on anticipation (see here) – rather than expecting – look to give. “Relationships based on obligation lack dignity” (Wayne Dyer), so enter them openly, without bias, and contribute rather than collect.
2. Everybody hurts. REM was right. If you enter a relationship with honesty, there is always the chance of getting hurt in the process. Bob Marley’s words: “truth is everybody is going to hurt you: you just gotta find the ones worth suffering for” strikes at this chord. Committing with honesty is an exemplary way to build relationships. “Be honest, brutally honest. That is what’s going to maintain relationships” (Lauryn Hill).
3. Work at it! Relationships require work. In the economics of human emotions, a zero-sum game is of no value. A balanced budget has no use. There is an ebb-and-flow that occurs with communication – and you have to work at this. Failure to communicate leads to failed relationships. When communication and conversation stall, remember: “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation” (Plato). Every young child knows the meaning of these ancient words. I have learned this principle best from my children.
Enter relationships without expectation. Don’t be afraid of getting hurt. Cultivate, communicate and work towards building strong relationships. With this, I hope you find some elements of happiness.
MEDICINE & MACULA: I’m in Copenhagen, Denmark this week for the EURETINA annual meeting – one of my favorite meetings! I love conversing and contrasting new therapies and techniques with my European and International colleagues.
Yesterday I presented two talks and enjoyed the discussion immensely. I presented, Comparison of microbiology and visual outcomes of patients undergoing small-gauge and 20-gauge vitrectomy for endophthalmitis in one of the morning sessions and Long-term outcomes in patients undergoing vitrectomy for retinal detachment due to viral retinitis in the afternoon session. Thanks EURETINA!
GRATIS: I have discovered the concept of hygge in modern Copenhagen. It is of serious gravity here! The best English word seems to be “cozy” or “coziness”. It’s about feeling comfortable like one is at home or in a “homely state”. Thank you Copenhagen!
My best to you,