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  • Hello, everybody,

  • I am delighted to be here

  • and grateful to all of you

  • for joining us for this discussion.

  • In 2015,

  • I gave a TEDx Talk

  • in a little elementary school auditorium,

  • and much to my surprise,

  • the talk became one of the 10 most-viewed talks

  • in the history of TED.

  • And in that talk, I conveyed one simple scientific finding.

  • The finding that when we study hundreds of people

  • over their entire adult lives,

  • the people who turn out to be the happiest and the healthiest

  • are those who have good, warm connections to others.

  • So today, I want to take you deeper into this whole subject,

  • by exploring how relationships matter in our lives,

  • how they affect our health,

  • what kinds of relationships give us this big benefit in happiness,

  • and which tools you can start using today to make your relationship stronger.

  • So I do direct this Harvard Study of Adult Development.

  • It's, as far as we know, the longest study of the same people

  • that's ever been done, following people since 1938.

  • From adolescence all the way through old age,

  • and now following all of their children,

  • thousands of lives.

  • And we began to find,

  • about 30 years ago,

  • this startling connection between warm relationships

  • and how good our lives feel to us,

  • our well-being,

  • and also the fact that warm relationships seemed to keep people

  • both physically stronger and kept their brains sharper

  • as they grew older.

  • And we didn't believe the data at first.

  • We thought, how could this be

  • that relationships actually get into our bodies

  • and shape our health?

  • But then other studies began to find the same thing.

  • We found that people had less depression,

  • they were less likely to get diabetes and heart disease,

  • that they recovered faster from illness

  • when they had better connections with other people.

  • So then the question is: How could this work?

  • How do relationships shape our happiness and our physical health?

  • Well, one of the best theories,

  • for which there's now some pretty good evidence,

  • is based on the idea of stress.

  • That, as we know, stress is an inevitable part of all of our lives.

  • Stress happens to us every day.

  • And what we find is that good relationships

  • turn out to be stress regulators.

  • So let me give you an example.

  • Let's say that I have something upsetting happen to me during the day,

  • and I find myself, like, ruminating about it

  • and really thinking about it and unhappy.

  • I can feel my body go into what we call fight or flight response

  • where literally my heart rate goes up

  • and I might start sweating a little bit

  • and I'm just not feeling as well.

  • Now, what we're meant to do is to come back to equilibrium

  • when a stressor goes away.

  • That's the way the body is supposed to work.

  • But what happens if I go home at the end of my upsetting day

  • and I have somebody to talk to?

  • Either I can call someone on the phone or it's somebody I live with.

  • I can literally feel my body calm down.

  • I can feel that fight or flight response subside.

  • But what if I don't have anybody to go home to?

  • What if there's nobody I can call?

  • What we find is that people who are isolated, are lonely,

  • don't have those stress regulators that we get from good relationships

  • and that we stay in chronic fight or flight mode,

  • that our bodies have this chronic stress,

  • chronic levels of inflammation

  • and circulating stress hormones that wear away our happiness

  • and break down different body systems.

  • Well, what kinds of relationships seem essential to well-being?

  • And this is interesting.

  • We asked people

  • who were our original participants in our study.

  • We asked them,

  • Who could you call in the middle of the night if you were sick or scared?

  • And many of our people could list several other people they could call

  • if they were in trouble.

  • Some people couldn't list anyone.

  • There wasn't a person on the planet who they could turn to

  • if they were sick or scared.

  • And what we find is that having at least one person in your life

  • who you feel really has your back,

  • who you could go to if you were in trouble,

  • that's essential for maintaining our happiness and our health.

  • When we asked these same people,

  • when they got to be in their 80s,

  • to look back on their lives

  • and to tell us what they were proudest of,

  • almost everybody said something about their relationships.

  • They didn't say, "I made a lot of money"

  • or "I won some big awards."

  • They said,

  • "I was a good mentor,"

  • "I was a good friend,"

  • "I raised healthy kids,"

  • "I was a good partner."

  • And so what we find

  • is that what seems to mean the most to people

  • when they get to the end of their lives

  • is the strength and the warmth of their connections to others.

  • So then the question comes up, well,

  • which types of relationships support our well-being?

  • Some people have asked,

  • "Do I need to be in an intimate relationship to get this benefit?"

  • Absolutely not.

  • All types of relationships support our well-being.

  • So friendships, relatives,

  • work colleagues, casual contacts.

  • The person who gets you your coffee every morning

  • at Starbucks or Dunkin' Donuts,

  • the person who checks you out in the grocery store,

  • who you see maybe every week.

  • Even talking to strangers has that benefit.

  • So they did an experiment

  • where they assigned some people who were about to go on the subway

  • the task of talking to a stranger

  • while other people were assigned the task

  • of just doing their usual thing of being on their phones

  • or listening to music or reading.

  • It turned out that the people who were assigned to talk to strangers

  • didn't think they were going to like it,

  • but they turned out to be much happier at the end of the task

  • than the people who just rode the subway keeping to themselves.

  • So even talking to strangers gives us that little hit of well-being

  • from relationships.

  • So the question comes up:

  • How can we strengthen our connections with other people?

  • And this is where we've come to think about it

  • as a kind of social fitness.

  • If we think about physical fitness,

  • you know, we we think, OK, I'll go to the gym,

  • I'll work out, I'll take a long walk,

  • I'll do something to keep myself strong and fit.

  • But then we come home and we don't say, I'm done,

  • I don't ever have to do that again.

  • We have the sense that physical fitness is a practice

  • that we need to maintain over time.

  • It turns out that social fitness is the same.

  • That in fact, our friendships,

  • our relationships don't just take care of themselves,

  • that even good relationships need tending to,

  • they need attention.

  • They need returning to them over and over again.

  • So what are some ways that we can strengthen our relationships?

  • Well, one way is to be proactive, to take the initiative.

  • So to reach out to a friend

  • and ask her to take a walk

  • instead of spending two more hours on your laptop

  • this weekend on Saturday afternoon.

  • Establish some routines with the people

  • who are most important to you.

  • A regular phone call or a coffee every Saturday

  • with someone you really want to be sure you see regularly.

  • Or meeting somebody at the gym.

  • Or having lunch with a coworker.

  • The other thing we can do is liven up those long-standing relationships,

  • particularly like the people we live with.

  • You know, people we can come to take for granted,

  • by proposing to do something new.

  • Going out on a date,

  • just taking a walk, if that's not your usual routine.

  • The other thing that we know works to help people,

  • particularly who aren't as connected to others as they want to be,

  • is to connect around shared interests.

  • So volunteer in the community

  • to do something that you care about.

  • It might be a gardening club, it might be a bowling league,