Researchers have collected data since 1938 for the Harvard Study of Adult Development. The study is quite rare due to its longevity. It has been looking for answers to the simple question, “What makes a happy and meaningful life?”
The study follows the lives of 724 men from different socioeconomic backgrounds. In a Ted Talk the current director of the project, Robert Waldinger, summarizes the results by answering a practical question: “If you were to invest now in your best future self, where would you put your time and energy?” People live as though the answer is found in wealth accumulation or career ambition. The study data shows otherwise. “The good life is built,” Waldinger says, “with good relationships.”
The absence of relationships means pervasive loneliness, a toxic feeling. Poor quality relationships do not help because conflict is also pathological to the human body. But a trustworthy friendship is therapeutic. Applied to senior adults, good, close relationships over time make the pains of physical decline less depressing. Waldinger’s takeaway is, “If you want to make one decision to ensure your health and happiness, it should be to cultivate warm relationships of all kinds.”
To be intentional about relationships is to invest in health and happiness. Think more face time, less social media. Work at reconciliation. Set aside feuds and grudges. Say yes to gatherings. Even introverts benefit from having friends, even though it’s more work for them.
The research affirms ancient wisdom in the Bible: relationships matter. But contrary to Waldinger’s emphasis, that’s not just a self-help formula. Your investment in relationships helps others find meaning in life, too. The most meaningful relationships are found in mutual faith. “What we have seen and heard we proclaim to you also,” John wrote, “so that you too may have fellowship with us; and indeed our fellowship is with the Father, and with His son Jesus Christ” (1 Jn. 1:3). When you meet a stranger who is a fellow believer, you have an instant connection as family.
C.S. Lewis connected relationship building with the Golden Rule (“do unto others…”) then writes, “but I cannot really carry it out til I love my neighbor as myself; and I cannot learn to love my neighbor as myself til I learn to love God; and I cannot learn to love God except by learning to obey Him.” And what command do you obey? “This is His commandment, that we believe in the name of His son Jesus Christ, and love one another” (1 Jn. 3:23). Faith, love, relationships, and meaning are all connected.
Once again, modern science confirms the Bible. God designed humans to live and flourish in community with Him and with our fellow travelers. When you make relationships a priority investment, you and your friends are happier and healthier.