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A man's pursuit of happiness

An 80 Year Long Study of Men

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One of the world’s longest longitudinal studies on men has produced some interesting results. The study began during the Great Depression in 1938 and started by following 268 men. Eventually, during the 50’s and 60’s, the study expanded to include the men’s offspring which made the study number more than 1300 men and thus became the longest running study on men EVER!

CAlled the Grant Study, the goal was to understand the key factors that would help men lead healthy and happy lives. Of the original participants, only 19 are still alive (all in their 90’s). One of the original recruits was none other than John F Kennedy.

Participants went on to become succesful businessmen, doctors and lawyers. There’s an arguement that the study was biased towards people with tertiary educations however this become nullified as the study expended to the original participants kin.

The study followed participants health trajectories, broader lives, triumphs, failures, careers, marriages and almost any other data point they could thing of.

So what did the study find? Well, it found that two main factors influenced mens happiness. They were:

  1. Taking care of your body
  2. The depth of relationship a man has to others around him

Robert Waldinger, the studies Director, said “the surprising finding is that our relationships and how happy we are in our relationships has a powerful influence on our health … 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.”

Those who kept warm relationships got to live oonger and happier and the loners often died earlier. In a nutshell, loneliness kills! Dr Waldinger went on to say that loneliness is as powerful as smoking or alcoholism in determining lifespan. To demonstrate, the study states that the happiness of a mans relationship at 50 was a better indicator of health at 80 years old than a measure of his cholestorol at the same age.

Initially the study focused on key biometric data from participants and collected data around relationships as ancilliary however, 28 years after the study began, a strong pattern emerged which was picked up by a psychiatrist named Goerge Vaillant in 1966. Dr Vallaint saied “When the study began, nobody cared about empathy or attachment. But the key to healthy agining is relationships, relationships, relationships.”

The researchers found that young men that presented as “broken” in their 20’s through factors ranging from abuse to alcoholism could turn their lives around and become happy 80 years old through their investment in better relationships. Conversely, young men that were previously “superstars” in their 20’s could drink too much or lose touch with loved ones, eventually leading to depression and ultimately die earlier than their loved up counterparts.

So, there you have it. If you want to be happy and live a long life, invest in your own health and friendships. Writing this line made me chuckle because I’ve sat in the wee hours of the morning fretting, not about eating well or health, but of relationships. Loneliness is one of the biggest hurdles I’ve faced in my own life and I’m finding that in midlife, it isn’t a barrier easily overcome. My experience thus far has been that I’ve drifted from my early life friends through geographical relocation or just dropping out of each other’s orbit. For me it was as simple as a break in freindship continuity caused by working overseas, that found me out of step with my friends on my return. On the bright side, when one phase of life has finished, another has opened new opportunities.

One such opportunity was when my kids started school. It was a great opportunity to meet men of a similar age that we’re in a similar phase to me. Suddenly I was surrounded by a new cohort of potential buddies. Luckily I’m relatively gregarious and don’t mind breaking the ice however, time will tell if this leads to genuine friendship or merely another acquaintance.

In summary, if we know that freindships and healthy relationships help men and make them happy, then why aren’t we as men actively investing in them? or are we and a bunch of us don’t know? My plan is to think on this over the next few weeks and hopefully write something that might answer this question. The question being, how can men make friends?

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